New Hampshire House Passes Bill to Reduce Penalties for Marijuana Possession

Nearly 61% of House Members Vote in Favor

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – The New Hampshire House of Representatives today voted, as it did in 2008, to reduce the penalty for possessing one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana. House Bill 1653 passed by a 214-137 vote. Previously, the bill had been recommended “out to pass” in a 16-2 vote by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee February 11.

            “This makes three years in a row that the House has passed a bill attempting to reform New Hampshire’s archaic marijuana policies,” said Matt Simon, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. “Unfortunately, Gov. Lynch has continued to show little interest in learning what the House has learned about these issues.

            In 2008, a measure similar to HB 1653 passed the House in a 193-141 vote, and last year a bill allowing marijuana for seriously ill patients passed the House and Senate before being vetoed by Gov. Lynch.

            Advocates stressed that the proposed policy would continue to discourage marijuana use, especially by those under 18, who would be required to complete a drug awareness program and community service if caught with less than one-quarter ounce of marijuana.

            “This bill doesn’t make marijuana legal for anybody,” Simon said. “It just reduces the penalty and ends the wasteful practice of clogging up our criminal justice system with people whose only ‘crime’ is possessing small amounts of marijuana.”

            Rep. Joel Winters (D-Manchester) supported the bill in the floor debate. “Passage of this bill will simply mean we’ve gotten smarter—that police can now waste less time dealing with marijuana users and have more time and resources freed up for dealing with serious crimes,” he told his colleagues.

            Since 1973, 12 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, including neighbor states Maine and Massachusetts, as well as North Carolina, Ohio, Nebraska and Mississippi.