The New Hampshire Senate has joined the House of Representatives in passing legislation to decriminalize marijuana.
By a vote of 17-6, the Senate approved a bill on Thursday to remove criminal penalties for possession of three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis in most cases. Currently, New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not yet decriminalized small amounts of marijuana.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has pledged to sign the bill into law.
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
“This is a very important reform for the Granite State, and it has been a long time in coming,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “The walls of prohibition are crumbling in New England and across the United States, and it’s very encouraging to see New Hampshire finally begin to catch up with its neighbors by passing decriminalization.”
Under the legislation, the reduction in penalties from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation would also apply to the possession of five grams of hashish and, in some cases, to marijuana-infused products purchased in states where they were legally sold, as long as they are properly stored and labeled.
For adults over 18 years of age, first and second marijuana offenses 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.
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.
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 the Senate to more seriously consider the reform this year than they have in the past.
Because the Senate Judiciary Committee amended the bill earlier this month from the version approved by the House by a vote of 318-36 in March, the legislation will require another vote in its originating body before it lands on the governor’s desk. As previously approved by the House, a full ounce of marijuana would have been decriminalized.
The Senate on Thursday resoundingly defeated floor amendments to reduce the amount of decriminalized cannabis to half an ounce and to remove hashish from the scope of the bill.
Separately, the body approved a bill to add post-traumatic stress disorder, moderate to severe chronic pain and other disorders as a qualifying conditions in the state’s medical cannabis program.
A poll released this week found that 68 percent of New Hampshire adults support legalizing marijuana.
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.
On Wednesday, lawmakers in neighboring Vermont made history by becoming the first legislature to send a marijuana legalization bill to a governor.
For more details on the current New Hampshire decriminalization bill, see this summary prepared by the Marijuana Policy Project.