The culmination of activists working in Concord for a decade, today saw New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu make good on campaign trail promises and sign a decriminalization bill into Granite State law.
The bill, HB 640, will take effect in 60 days and make New Hampshire the 22nd state in the nation decriminalize marijuana. The state will also become the last of the New England states to eliminate the possibility of jail time for simple marijuana possession.
Earlier this year saw the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed a decriminalization bill for the eighth time since 2008, but this was the first time someone pro-decriminalization was in the governor’s mansion. Matt Simon, who led the decrim effort before they started winning the house every year for the Marijuana Policy Project as New England political director, gave the governor full recognition in a statement after the signing while making good on his March 2017 promise, “This year the result will be different.”
“The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this commonsense reform,” said Simon. “Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. Sununu appears to understand that ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than just a motto on a license plate.”
Simon singled out the victory on the House and its many lawmakers that have stood by the idea that simple marijuana possession shouldn’t be a crime in New Hampshire for years to no avail.
“A lot of credit also goes to the House, which has been passing decriminalization bills since 2008,” Simon said. “It is refreshing to see the Senate finally come to an agreement with the House on this issue. This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy for New Hampshire.”
Simon has always pointed to lawmakers as a big backbone of the effort telling Cannabis Now this March:
“Most representatives agree it is time to stop wasting limited public resources on arrests for simple marijuana possession. We hope their colleagues in the Senate will agree that our tax dollars and law enforcement officials’ time would be better spent addressing serious crimes.”
With HB 640, New Hampshire decriminalizes marijuana
HB 640 was introduced by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, where it received overwhelming approval this February (in the nation’s oldest state house meeting chambers still in use) taking home a whopping 90 percent of support in the vote. Not long after the Senate would amend and approve their version in early May by a 17-6 vote.
The House passed the Senate version by a voice vote on June 1.
HB 640 will reduce the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor — currently punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000 — to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years of the first offense. A fourth offence within three years of the first offence could be charged as a class B misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or possibility of jail time.
And make no mistake about it, these arrests were happening. When the bill takes effect on September 18, New Hampshire will stop arresting thousands of marijuana users annually: in 2012, nearly 3,000 people were arrested for possession. Many of those arrests happen on the popular Interstate 95 corridor running between Boston, Portland and the resort town of Southern Maine, measuring only 18 miles — the shortest coastline of any U.S. State but is a mecca for New England tourists, who in many cases became an unlucky cannabis enthusiast.
“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession,” Simon said. “Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol and Granite Staters are ready to see it treated that way. A very strong majority of state residents support ending marijuana prohibition altogether.
Simon is now on to the next big task in the Granite State, the full-scale legalization of cannabis for adult use.
“New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents’ lead on this issue,” Simon said. “Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire.”
More than two-thirds of New Hampshire adults (68 percent) support making marijuana legal, according to a Granite State Poll released last month by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center.
TELL US, do you think New Hampshire will ever get adult-use cannabis?