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New Hampshire Senators Consider Marijuana Decriminalization

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New Hampshire could soon become the next state to remove the threat of jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana.

Last month, the state’s House of Representatives approved a bill to decriminalize up to half an ounce of cannabis.

On Tuesday, the legislation, which would replace criminal penalties with civil fines, will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Although the bill has momentum following its passage through the House by a voice vote, advocates point out that similar proposals have been killed by the Senate in recent years.

“The New Hampshire Senate has killed six House-approved decriminalization bills since 2008, but it’s possible that the seventh time will be the charm, and that the ‘Live Free or Die’ state will become the final New England state to decriminalize marijuana possession by passing HB 1631 into law,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), told Marijuana.com in an interview.

The group is asking supporters to call their state senators and the office of Gov. Maggie Hassan and urge them to finally enact decriminalization this year.

Hassan, currently a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, hasn’t been especially friendly to marijuana law reform during her tenure. Although she signed a medical cannabis bill into law in 2013, her administration has been accused of slow-walking its implementation. She also strongly opposes legalization.

A poll released by WMUR last month found that 62 percent of New Hampshire residents support full legalization of marijuana.

“Public support for this reform is overwhelming, and there are no good arguments for continuing to waste limited resources on marijuana possession arrests and related court appearances,” Simon said. “However, the democratic process has failed many times before in the New Hampshire Senate, and unless we start to see some clear leadership from the governor’s office, it may fail yet again in 2016.”

New Hampshire is currently the only state in New England that still doles out criminal penalties to people caught with small amounts of marijuana

In 2014, the state’s House of Representatives became the first state legislative chamber in U.S. history to approve a bill to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana sales. The state’s Senate did not follow suit amidst veto threats by Hassan, and the legislation died.

In February, the state Senate in neighboring Vermont approved a legalization bill. Peter Shumlin, the state’s Democratic governor, supports the legislation, but it faces uncertain prospects in the House, where it is being heard in committee this week.

The New Hampshire decriminalization bill would reduce the penalty for possessing one-half ounce or less of cannabis or up to five grams of hashish from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil violation. Fines would be $ 100 for a first offense, $ 200 for a second offense and $ 500 for additional offenses.

Twenty states and Washington, D.C. have removed the threat of jail for low-level marijuana possession. Fifteen other states, including New Hampshire, are considering bills to do so this year, according to MPP.

Photo credit: Born0n420

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