Marijuana Possession Penalties Changing in New Hampshire

By Kelly Burch 07/20/17

New legislation will reduce the penalties for low-level marijuana offenses.

nuggets of marijuana alongside a gavel

New Hampshire Governor Chis Sununu signed legislation this week that decriminalizes possession of up to three-quarters of an once of marijuana. 

The measure will take effect 60 days after the bill was signed on July 18. Following that, possession of pot in New Hampshire will be treated as a civil violation with a fine of up to $100 for the first offense. Currently possession of marijuana is a criminal offense punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and up to a year in jail. 

Marijuana proponents, civil liberties experts and law enforcement all welcomed the change. 

"Decriminalizing marijuana will reduce the burden low-level marijuana offenses place on police officers and judges who have to deal with these cases every day," Richard Van Wickler, a superintendent of Corrections at a jail facility in New Hampshire and board chairman of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, told the Concord Patch. "I look forward to seeing our justice system refocus on serious crimes and use resources more effectively to keep our families and communities safe.”

When the bill takes effect, all New England states—Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut—will have decriminalized marijuana. New Hampshire was the lone hold-out in the region since Vermont decriminalized marijuana possession in 2008.

“It is past time for New Hampshire to join the rest of New England in adopting more sensible marijuana possession laws,” Devon Chaffee, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, said in a press release after the Senate passed the bill in May. More recently he praised the governor for signing the bill. 

Sununu, a Republican, was elected in November. His predecessor, Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan, was opposed to decriminalization and threatened to veto the measure during her time leading the state. 

“The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this commonsense reform,” said Matt Simon, the New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “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.”

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Hampton Democrat, was the bill’s prime sponsor. “There’s a lot of collateral damage that’s done by arresting people for marijuana,” Cushing said, according to NHPR.

“We spend $35,000 a year to keep someone in jail, prison in this state for marijuana possession at a time when we don’t have enough money for beds for opioid addicts.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.