After years of debate between the New Hampshire House of Representatives and Senate, it seems they were finally able to come to an agreement. On Thursday June 1st, the House took a vote on the revised version of the bill which the Senate had finally approved, and with their final approval it was sent on to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
This has been a long time coming as New Hampshire is the last state in all of the New England area to decriminalize cannabis. In fact, voters in nearby Massachusetts and Maine legalized recreational use and sales last fall. While New Hampshire has had medical marijuana for years, it has taken quite some time to finally agree to remove criminal penalties for small possession.
“We applaud the New Hampshire House in voting to concur with the Senate version of the bill and urge the Governor to sign into law without delay,” Devon Chaffee, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, wrote in a prepared statement. “It is time for New Hampshire to join the rest of New England in adopting more sensible marijuana possession laws.”
Once Governor Sununu signs the bill into law – which he is expected to do as he has expressed support for it multiple times in the past – it will go into effect within 60 days. Once it has gone into effect then it will no longer be a criminal offense to possess up to a three quarters of an ounce of cannabis, but instead will be charged a $100 fine.
“We are going to get these people who are convicted of minor crimes of possession of small amounts of marijuana out of the criminal system, out of the jail system,” Grassie said.
The most recent polls show that 68% of New Hampshire residents are in support of cannabis legalization – so decriminalizing was a clear first step for legislators who are hoping to eventually go down that path. Recently, lawmakers in nearby Vermont lawmakers were the first to pass a legalization bill to the Governor – but unfortunately it was vetoed, with the hopes of it being passed after some specific changes are made.
However, just the act of passing such a law might be enough to convince lawmakers in other states to take similar action – especially in states where legalization cannot happen any other way. In the meantime, small steps and improvements like decriminalizing lessens the blow of prohibition while lawmakers watch the states moving away from it successfully, hopefully with intentions of emulating their success in the future.