New Hampshire on Verge of Decriminalizing Cannabis Possession

Published on May 11, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
In this Feb. 9, 2017 file photo, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu pauses as he addresses legislators during his budget address at the State House in Concord, N.H. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The New Hampshire Senate approved a measure Thursday that would remove criminal penalties for cannabis possession. While there are still a few hurdles to clear, the decriminalization bill is widely expected to become law.

“The walls of prohibition are crumbling in New England.”

Senators voted 17–6 in favor of the bill, House Bill 640, which would remove the threat of arrest and jail time for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis. The House of Representatives, which passed the original version of the bill on a 318–36 vote in February, is expected to sign off on the Senate-approved version, at which point the measure will head to Gov. Chris Sununu for his signature.

Sununu tweeted on Thursday: “I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law.”

Shortly after he was elected this past November, the Republican governor said he supported cannabis decriminalization but wasn’t ready to endorse a legal, regulated market. “[To] simply jump all the way to full legalization is not a step that we should be looking at right now,” he told Seacoast Media Group in November 2016.

Thursday’s Senate passage is a big win for New Hampshire legalization advocates, who have repeatedly seen past efforts to decriminalize fall flat. They note that cannabis convictions can ruin young people’s lives, posing challenges to college admissions and limiting job opportunities.

“New Hampshire remains the only New England state where an adult can be arrested, face up to a year in jail, and suffer a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a personal use amount of marijuana,” NORML Executive Director Erik Altieri said in a statement Thursday. “We commend lawmakers for finally correcting this injustice.”

Proponents have also argued that law enforcement resources could be better spent addressing the ongoing opioid crisis, which has hit New England states hard in recent years—with New Hampshire among the worst in terms of opioid overdose deaths.

Under the New Hampshire measure, possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce would be punishable by a $100 fine for a first or second offense. That penalty would climb to $300 for a third offense within three years of the first offense. A fourth offense within a three-year window could be charged as a misdemeanor, but there would be no arrest or possibility of jail time.

“This is a very important reform for the Granite State, and it has been a long time coming,” said Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “The walls of prohibition are crumbling in New England and across the United States. It’s encouraging to see New Hampshire finally begin to catch up with neighboring states by passing decriminalization.”

Both Maine and Massachsuetts voted in November to legalize cannabis for adult-use. On Wednesday, the Vermont Legislature voted to legalize cannabis cultivation and possession, but not commercial production or sales. That bill awaits the signature of Gov. Phil Scott, who hasn’t yet said whether he’ll approve it. He’s previously made comments against legalization.

In Delaware, a bill that would legalize adult-use cannabis was released Wednesday by a House committee and now goes to the full House for consideration. The legislation, which seeks to regulate and tax cannabis in the same manner as alcohol, cleared its first legislative hurdle on a 10-2 vote in the House Revenue and Finance Committee.

While the bill would not allow people to grow their own, it would allow adults over age 21 to legally possess less than an ounce of cannabis for personal use.

UPDATE, May 11, 2017, 2:19 p.m. Pacific: This story was revised to include Gov. Chris Sununu’s indication on Twitter that he will sign HB 640 into law.

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Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin
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