Concord, NH- House Bill 618, legislation to approve decriminalization of marijuana possession passed on Wednesday with a vote of 297-67. Currently, marijuana possession of any amount in New Hampshire is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $2,000 fine and one year in prison. HB 618 would make possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana or five grams of hashish a civil violation with a fine of up to $100 for the first offense. The full bill is available to read here.
“Nobody should face jail time and a permanent criminal record just for possessing a substance that is far less harmful than alcohol,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “Granite Staters do not want their state government to continue wasting its resources on enforcing such an unfair and outdated policy. Hopefully our state senators and governor will respect that and move forward with this legislation.”
“The New Hampshire Constitution states that the penalty for an offense needs to fit the severity of the crime,” Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket), a sponsor of HB 618, told Fosters.com. “And right now, marijuana is being treated as though it’s just as severe a crime as the hard drugs like heroin and cocaine. And so from that perspective, the easiest answer is that the penalty ought to fit the crime.”
This year’s vote signals rising support from House legislators for removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession. Last year, a decriminalization bill passed the House 215-92. In 2013, a decriminalization bill was passed in the House 214-115. Wednesday’s vote marked the sixth time the House has voted to decriminalize marijuana.
While it appears to become easier each year for the House to pass a decriminalization bill, the Senate has continued to show its opposition by killing the House bills each year. If HB 618 passes the Senate this year, it still faces a veto from Governor Maggie Hassan (D-Exeter).
Hassan has long been vocal about her opposition to relaxing the state’s marijuana laws. During last year’s gubernatorial debates, Hassan appeared to soften her stance on decriminalization, saying that while she believes marijuana is harmful and legalization would lead to more people using it, “I do however think that somebody having a first offense for marijuana, you should not necessarily face criminal charges.” She went on to say that she would push for a “treatment focus” rather than a “criminal justice focus” on marijuana use.
Despite those remarks, Hassan recently told the Nashua Telegraph that she does not support HB 618, and has stated on several occasions that she would veto marijuana legalization measures beyond the medical marijuana bill she signed in 2013. Medical marijuana has yet to be implemented in New Hampshire.