Yesterday afternoon, with a stroke of New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu’s pen, the “Live Free or Die” state took a big step toward living up to its motto on marijuana policy. HB 640 is now officially on the books and will take effect in 60 days, making New Hampshire the 22nd state, and the final New England state, to decriminalize marijuana possession. You can read a summary of the new law here.
Unfortunately, Gov. Sununu also decided to sign HB 215, which will create a study commission that we fear will be one-sided. However, we understand the governor’s reluctance to veto a study commission, so we are not going to be too critical of his decision.
The decriminalization victory would not have been possible without the hard work of our many dedicated allies. In particular, we’d like to thank attorney Paul Twomey, the ACLU-NH, the New Hampshire Liberty Alliance, and HB 640 sponsor Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) for their tireless efforts in support of sensible marijuana policy reforms.
For the first time in its history, the New Hampshire Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to approve a marijuana decriminalization bill. HB 640 was amended and passed by the committee in a 3-2 vote today. A vote by the full Senate is expected on Thursday, May 11. For a summary of the bill, as amended, click here.
The House overwhelmingly approved HB 640 in February in a 318-36 vote, and it has approved similar bills eight times since 2008. The Senate Judiciary Committee vote marks the first time such a bill has been approved by a Senate committee. Gov. Chris Sununu has consistently said he supports decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana and is expected to sign the bill if it is approved by the full Senate.
MPP released the following statement from New England Policy Director Matt Simon in a press release:
“This is a big step toward a more sensible marijuana policy in New Hampshire,” said Matt Simon, the Manchester-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “It will allow police and the courts to spend their time addressing serious crimes instead of wasting it on pointless arrests and criminal prosecutions for marijuana possession.”
“The current penalties for marijuana possession in New Hampshire are causing more harm to consumers and the community than marijuana itself,” Simon said. “Every other state in New England has already stopped criminalizing people for simple marijuana possession. Granite Staters are ready to do the same.”
HB 640, which was originally introduced in the House by Rep. Renny Cushing and a bipartisan group of co-sponsors, would remove the threat of arrest and jail time for simple marijuana possession. As amended by the Senate, the penalty for possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana would be reduced 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 $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense within three years of the first offense. A fourth offense within three years of the first offense could be charged as a class B misdemeanor without arrest or the possibility of jail time.
In other great news, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee voted unanimously to approve HB 160, which would make post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) a qualifying condition for the medical cannabis program and make other positive changes to the law.
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.
New Hampshire patients who have been desperately waiting for the state to begin issuing ID cards can finally breathe a sigh of relief. This afternoon, Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Robert McNamara ruled in favor of Linda Horan, a terminal lung cancer patient who wishes to obtain medical marijuana legally from a dispensary in Maine. The state will now have to issue Linda an ID card without delay (you can read the full court order here). The card will protect Linda from arrest in New Hampshire and allow her to comply with the terms of Maine’s law, which allows dispensaries to serve visiting patients if they possess ID cards from their home states.
This lawsuit was needed because although New Hampshire passed its medical marijuana law in 2013, the attorney general’s office blocked the issuance of ID cards, advising that the state must wait until the first dispensary was ready to open (which is not expected until 2016). Congratulations and many thanks to Linda, her attorney, Paul Twomey, and state Rep. Renny Cushing for their courageous leadership!
Twomey summed the case up perfectly with the following quote: “Linda is a hero. Facing death, she has chosen to fight for the rights of all the critically ill patients in New Hampshire, who should not have to fear arrest because they are sick. She may be dying, but we all owe her our thanks for showing us how to live.”
If you are a patient, you can learn more about the registration process and download the relevant forms by visiting the program’s website here.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) approved a resolution Thursday urging the federal government to allow states to determine their own marijuana policies. For a resolution to pass, it must be supported by a majority of participating legislators in each of 75% of the states represented at the conference’s general business meeting.
The preamble to the resolution, introduced by New Hampshire State Rep. Renny Cushing, notes that “states are increasingly serving as laboratories for democracy by adopting a variety of policies regarding marijuana and hemp,” and it highlights the fact that “the federal government cannot force a state to criminalize cultivating, possessing, or distributing marijuana or hemp — whether for medical, recreational, industrial, or other uses — because doing so would constitute unconstitutional commandeering.”
The resolution states:
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that federal laws, including the Controlled Substances Act, should be amended to explicitly allow states to set their own marijuana and hemp policies without federal interference and urges the administration not to undermine state marijuana and hemp policies.
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the National Conference of State Legislatures recognizes that its members have differing views on how to treat marijuana and hemp in their states and believes that states and localities should be able to set whatever marijuana and hemp policies work best to improve the public safety, health, and economic development of their communities.
The full resolution can be found here.