Last month, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that aimed to decriminalize possession of an ounce or less of cannabis – as well as up to five grams of hashish. The bill passed with a vote of 318-36, and was sent over to the Senate for review. Unfortunately, in the past the Senate has not been quite as keen on the idea of decriminalizing marijuana (the reason New Hampshire is the only state left in the New England area who has yet to do so), and this time things are starting out shakier than people would have liked.
Since being introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee, HB640 has seen a handful of amendments that make significant changes to the law that was originally proposed. First, the amendments would cut the amount of marijuana in half – making a half an ounce a ticketed offense, while anything more would remain a misdemeanor (also reducing the 5 grams of hashish to 1). It also takes away a specific line that would have prevented officers from using their own discretion when it comes to ticketing or arresting, and would give multiple offenses the potential for arrest.
“To make a second offense subject to arrest, or to allow police to arrest someone if they feel it necessary, is not decriminalization,” said Matt Simon of Manchester, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project.
The changes, introduced by Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, also include an increase in the fines – which were $100 under the House version and have been bumped up to $300 under the new version going through the Senate. So not only is this attempting to reduce the amount of cannabis that is considered no longer a criminal offense, but it makes the fine for being caught with it more than double what was originally suggested.
All of these changes were supposedly introduced over issues that law enforcement recently voiced over the decriminalization bill – but there was a long process where the bill was drafted, with input from many different parties, as well as hearings in the House when the bill was first heard, and law enforcement did not attend a single one of these discussions. It seems like they waited until the bill was in the Senate, where it had slightly less support, to voice their concerns in hopes of having certain things put into the bill.
“Police chiefs could have come to any one of those meetings. They didn’t even show up at the House hearings on this bill,” he said. “Some of the things they brought up we could have easily addressed if they’d just brought them to our attention at an earlier point.”
Not all senators are happy with these changes – at least a few on the Judiciary Committee are already opposed to the changes and do not plan to support this version of the bill – so there is hope that things will be worked out a little better for both parties. Perhaps putting back the line that bans arrest for an ounce or less of cannabis, and meeting somewhere in the middle on the fine (or create a tiered fine system depending on the number of offenses). There are many ways that the state can come together to clean this bill up and make it worth passing – and hopefully they will take the time to do just that before sending it on to the Senate floor for a vote.