Speakers Make Case for Decriminalizing Marijuana to New Hampshire Senate Committee

HB 1653 Would Remove Criminal Penalties for Possession of Quarter-Ounce of Marijuana, Replace with a Fine of Up to $200 

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE – Today, a panel of witnesses told the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee how a proposed bill to decriminalize marijuana in the state would save law enforcement costs, allow police to focus on more serious crimes, and stop wasting resources arresting otherwise law-abiding citizens who choose to use a substance that is safer than alcohol. 

            Sponsored by Rep. Steve Lindsey (D-Keene), HB 1653 would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana and replace them with a fine of up to $200. Last month, the bill passed the House of Representatives by a bipartisan 214-137 vote.

            “Even though most offenders in New Hampshire don’t actually get sentenced to jail for possessing one or two marijuana cigarettes, our state still goes through the expensive process of arresting these people, prosecuting them, and branding them with criminal records—all for using a substance that by any objective standard is safer than alcohol,” said Matt Simon, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. “The conclusion reached by every study I’ve ever read on this subject is that the harshness of penalties has little or nothing to do with an individual’s choice to use or not use marijuana.”

            “I believe passage of this bill would simply mean we’ve gotten smarter,” said Rep. Joel Winters (D-Manchester). “That police would be able to waste less time dealing with marijuana users and have more time and resources freed up for dealing with serious crimes.” 

            In 2008, 65 percent of voters in neighboring Massachusetts voted to remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and replace them with a $100 fine. Twelve states across the country, including Ohio, Mississippi, and North Carolina, have passed marijuana decriminalization laws. 

Under current New Hampshire law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense, carrying a potential penalty of up to one year in jail, a $2,000 fine, and a criminal conviction that could damage someone’s ability to find employment, secure government benefits, or qualify for student financial aid.

The bill would also require parents of offenders younger than 18 to be informed of the offense, and underage offenders would have to complete a drug awareness program within one year of the violation, or face a $1,000 fine.