Starting tomorrow, you will not face jail time for simple cannabis possession in any New England state, as New Hampshire becomes America’s 22nd state to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis possession, as new law will officially take effect on September 16.
The new lower penalty was introduced during the last legislative session by Rep. Renny Cushing (D), who led a bipartisan group of co-sponsors in the New Hampshire House. The bill passed the House with a vote of 318-36, while the Senate amended and approved it on May 11 with a vote of 17-6.
The House would ultimately go on to pass the Senate version by a voice vote on June 1, and Gov. Sununu signed it on July 18.
Matt Simon, the Manchester-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said it was refreshing to see Gov. Sununu get behind cannabis decriminalization.
“The governor and Legislature both deserve a lot of credit for moving the state forward with this commonsense reform,” Simon said. “Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. Sununu appears to understand that ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than just a motto on a license plate.”
HB 640 reduces the penalty for cannabis possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce from a criminal misdemeanor—punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000—to a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine for a first or second offense, with a $300 fine for a third offense within three years of the first offense.
‘Don’t learn your lesson?’ Well, a fourth offense within three years of the first offense could end up resulting in a charge of a class B misdemeanor—still though, no possibility of jail time.
“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession,” Simon said. “Marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and Granite Staters are ready to see it treated that way. A very strong majority of state residents support ending marijuana prohibition altogether.
Simon was optimistic that New Hampshire would continue to build on this momentum and eventually legalize the adult use of cannabis.
“New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents’ lead on this issue,” he said. “Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the Legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire.”