The New Hampshire House of Representatives approved a marijuana decriminalization bill by an overwhelming vote of 318-36 on Wednesday.
It now heads to the Senate, where House-passed decriminalization proposals have gone to die in recent years. But there is reason for advocates to be more optimistic this year, as for the first time the state has a governor who supports removing criminal penalties for cannabis possession.
The bill would reduce the penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana to a violation punishable by a fine of $100 for first-time offenses. Subsequent law enforcement encounters within a period of three years would see gradually increasing fines. Under current law, low-level cannabis possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
In past legislative sessions, the Senate defeated decriminalization proposals largely due to vocal opposition from then-Gov. Maggie Hassan (D). But advocates are hopeful about enacting the bill this year because Hassan, who was recently elected to the U.S. Senate, was replaced by new Gov. Chris Sununu (R), a decriminalization supporter.
Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told MassRoots in an interview that he expects the Senate to take up the bill in April.
New Hampshire is the only state in New England not to have decriminalized marijuana yet.
A poll last year found that 72 percent of Granite Staters support either decriminalizing or fully legalizing cannabis.
In 2014, the New Hampshire House became the first state legislative body in the U.S. to ever approve a bill to legalize marijuana, but it later died in the Senate.