A Kansas bill that would reduce harsh penalties for people found in possession of marijuana received a strong vote of support yesterday from the House Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice. HB 2049 received a unanimous vote by the committee and will now be presented on the floor of the House for a vote.
HB 2049 would drop the sentence range for first time offenders from a Class A to a Class B misdemeanor — reducing the possible maximum jail sentence from a year to six months and reducing the maximum fine from $2,500 to $1,000. Second-time offenders would likewise see a reduction in penalties – taking them from a felony to a misdemeanor.
According to testimony by the Kansas Sentencing Commission, these simple changes represent over a million dollars in savings and would free up space in overcrowded jails. While a majority of Americans prefer a system that would remove criminal penalties entirely for adult consumers, these changes would represent a welcome improvement for those who choose a substance that is safer than alcohol.
A bill has been introduced in the New Hampshire House of Representatives that would remove criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. The House passed a nearly identical bill last year by a vote of 215-92, but the Senate refused to consider it.
HB 618, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket) and a bipartisan group of seven co-sponsors, would make possession of up to one ounce of marijuana punishable by a civil fine of up to $100. It would also make cultivation of up to six marijuana plants a Class A misdemeanor instead of a felony. Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000. New Hampshire is the only state in New England that treats simple marijuana possession as a criminal offense with the potential for jail time.
Delaware State Rep. Helene Keeley, State Sens. Margret Rose Henry and Bryan Townsend, and 10 of their colleagues have just introduced legislation that would replace Delaware’s criminal penalty for marijuana possession with a simple civil fine, similar to a traffic ticket.
Possessing one ounce or less of marijuana in the First State is currently classified as a unclassified misdemeanor punishable by up to three months in jail, a criminal fine of up to $575, or both! HB 39 proposes making possession of one ounce or less of marijuana punishable by a civil fine of $100. This modest change will allow law enforcement to focus on more serious crimes while ending the draconian practice of saddling Delawareans with a criminal record for simply possessing a small amount of a substance that is safer than alcohol.
Earlier this month, Gov. John deJongh Jr. of the U.S. Virgin Islands stated that he supported decriminalizing marijuana, despite the fact that he vetoed a bill that would reduce penalties at the end of 2014. The Senate overrode his initial veto, adding the Virgin Islands to the list of U.S. territories that are changing their marijuana policies.
Sen. Terrence Nelson sponsored the measure, which is now law, to decriminalize the possession of less than 1 ounce of marijuana and make it a civil offense punishable by a fine of between $100 and $200, with the possible forfeiture of the contraband.
In the case that an offender is younger than 18, the offender could receive a $100 fine, the parents or guardians would have to be notified and the offender will be required to complete an approved drug awareness program within one year of the possession.
On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee of the Wyoming Legislature approved a bill – HB 29 – that would replace the current criminal penalty for marijuana possession with a more sensible civil fine. By a vote of 7-2, the committee supported the proposal that will end the threat of arrest for first and second possession charges.
Sponsored by Rep. Jim Byrd, the bill originally sought to impose a civil fine of $50 for the first or second possession of up to a half an ounce of marijuana and a $100 fine for possession of up to an ounce. The committee amended this language and set the fines at $250 for possession of up to half an ounce and $500 for possession of up to an ounce. If you are a Wyoming resident, please encourage your representative to support this bill, and ask her or him to lower the fine as well.
No one should be saddled with a criminal record for the simple act of possessing a substance that is safer than alcohol. If HB 29 is made law, Wyomingites will no longer face that overly harsh penalty. Email your representatives in support of HB 29 and encourage your friends and family in Wyoming to do so too!