The New Hampshire House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved HB 640 on Wednesday (318-36), bringing New Hampshire one step closer to becoming the final state in New England to decriminalize marijuana possession. The bill will now be considered by the Senate.
HB 640, sponsored by Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) and a bipartisan group of 10 co-sponsors, would reduce the penalty for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana from a criminal misdemeanor, which is currently punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000, to a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense within three years, and $350 for a third or subsequent offense within three years of two previous offenses.
HB 640 has faced much less opposition than similar bills that failed in recent years. Only one person testified against it at a public hearing on February 1, and the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which voted 7-6 last year to kill a similar measure (HB 1631), approved HB 640 14-2. Additionally, Gov. Chris Sununu has consistently said he supports decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana, whereas previous governors have been opposed.
More than seven out of 10 Granite Staters (72%) would like to see the Legislature decriminalize or legalize marijuana, according to a WMUR Granite State Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center in July 2016.
While public opinion is rising in support of ending marijuana prohibition and politicians are starting to step up on the issue, it seems that some lawmakers are still way behind the curve.
The New Hampshire House of Representatives Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 11-7 against recommending the passage of HB492, a bill to regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol, despite a new poll showing strong public support for the measure.
According to a new WMUR Granite State Poll released October 25 by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, 60% of New Hampshire adults support HB492. Just 36% said they are opposed. The poll of 603 randomly selected New Hampshire adults was conducted October 1-7 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%. The entire poll is available at here.
"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big of a failure as alcohol prohibition," said Matt Simon, a New Hampshire-based legislative analyst for the Marijuana Policy Project. "New Hampshire voters are clearly ready for a more sensible approach. It appears some legislators are still less evolved than their constituents on this issue."
Support for ending marijuana prohibition in New Hampshire reflects growing public support nationwide. A Gallup poll released earlier this month found a record-high 58% of Americans now support making marijuana legal.