On Thursday, the New Hampshire Senate had a golden opportunity to reduce marijuana possession penalties, but they failed to seize it. Rather than passing SB 498, which had been amended by the House to decriminalize possession of one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana for first offenses, the Senate voted to send the bill to a conference committee. This committee will be comprised of three senators and four representatives, who will meet to discuss a possible compromise between the two chambers.
Sadly, the three senators Senate President Chuck Morse named to the committee have all opposed reducing marijuana possession penalties to a violation: Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), and Sen. Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia). Since a conference committee must unanimously agree on a final bill or else it simply dies, there is little reason for optimism. However, it is still very important for senators to hear from supporters.
If you are a New Hampshire resident, please take a few minutes to find out how your senator voted on the previous decriminalization bill — then call your senator to say thanks or to express your displeasure.
It’s also important for people to understand that if Gov. Maggie Hassan had supported this bill in any way, the outcome would likely have been very different in the Senate. Fortunately, New Hampshire will be electing a new governor and several new state senators in November — stay tuned for updates as election season approaches!
The New Hampshire Senate killed HB 1631 in April, but last week the plan to reduce marijuana possession penalties to a violation was given new life in the House. In a 12-7 vote, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee agreed to amend a Senate-approved bill, SB 498, by adding provisions that would decriminalize possession of one-quarter ounce of marijuana for first offenses.
We expect that the amended SB 498 will pass the House by a wide margin before it returns to the Senate. Last week, 14 out of 24 senators voted against decriminalizing one-half ounce or less of marijuana, so we will need at least three of these senators to vote in favor of SB 498 in order to pass it. We are optimistic that this can be achieved, in part because Gov. Maggie Hassan has indicated that she would be willing to sign a bill if it was limited to first offenses of one-quarter ounce or less.
The amended SB 498 is far from perfect, but even in this modest form it would prevent many Granite Staters from being arrested and hauled into court for possessing small amounts of marijuana. Please take a moment to follow up with your senator and urge him or her to support this compromise.