New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) is set to sign a marijuana decriminalization bill into law.
On Thursday, the state’s House of Representatives took final action on legislation to remove criminal penalties for small amounts of cannabis, setting up the state to finally become the last in New England to decriminalize.
Under the bill, the reduction in penalties from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation would apply to the possession of three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana, five grams of hashish and, in some cases, to cannabis-infused products purchased in states where they were legally sold, as long as they are properly stored and labeled.
Current law considers low-level cannabis possession a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000.
“It’s been a long time coming, but New Hampshire is finally moving toward adopting marijuana policies that are consistent with the state’s ‘Live Free or Die’ motto,” Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project told MassRoots.
Also on Thursday, the House concurred with Senate amendments to a separate bill adding PTSD as a qualifying condition under the state’s medical cannabis law.
And the Senate is scheduled to consider an amended version of a House-passed bill to create a study commission to examine the possible legalization of marijuana. (The Rhode Island House is also set to consider a bill creating a legalization study committee in that state on Thursday.)
Earlier this year, the New Hampshire House had approved decriminalization of a full ounce of cannabis by a vote of 318 to 36, but the proposal was amended down to three-fourths of an ounce by a Senate committee and then passed by that full chamber last month by a vote of 17 to 6. The change required additional approval by the House, which came Thursday without debate.
Sununu, who has previously pledged to sign the bill into law, will have five days to take action once the legislation is formally transmitted to his desk.
I want to thank the legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform. I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law.
— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) May 11, 2017
Once the bill is signed, first and second marijuana offenses for adults over 18 years of age, within a period of three years, would be punishable by a $100 civil fine. A third offense would be met with $300 fine, and a subsequent offenses could be charged as Class B misdemeanors, punishable by fine of up to $1,200. Revenue collected from the fines would be used to fund substance abuse prevention programs.
Minors under 18 years of age will be subject to the jurisdiction of the juvenile court.
The House approved decriminalization bills a number of times in recent years, but they have all died in the Senate in light of opposition from the state’s previous governors.
Sununu, during the course of his gubernatorial campaign last year, made clear that he supports removing marijuana’s criminal penalties. And he continued to do so after being inaugurated, opening up room for senators to more seriously consider the reform this year than they have in the past.
A poll released last month found that 68 percent of New Hampshire adults support legalizing marijuana.
In 2014, the state’s House became the first legislative body in the U.S. to ever approve a bill to legalize marijuana, but it later died in the Senate.
The victory in New Hampshire comes amid efforts to reform marijuana laws elsewhere in New England.
Last week, Vermont’s governor vetoed a legislature-passed marijuana legalization bill but suggested small changes which, if agreed to by lawmakers during a short session this month, would make him comfortable signing it into law.
And in Connecticut, the Senate president and House speaker included legalization language in their budget proposal but it is unclear if the move will find enough support to be enacted prior to the legislature’s expected adjournment next week.
Massachusetts and Maine voters approved marijuana legalization initiatives at the ballot box in November.