WASHINGTON — With numerous states facing significant budget shortages, legislators and voters across the country this month have been giving overwhelming support to measures that would reduce the penalty for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil fine.
Yesterday in New Hampshire, the state House voted 214-137 to pass H.B. 1653, a bill that would reduce the penalty for possession of up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $200.
In Hawaii, the state Senate voted 22 to 3 on March 2 to pass SB 2450, a bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $300 for a first offense and $500 for a subsequent offense.
And in Vermont, 72% of voters in Montpelier approved a non-binding ordinance asking the state legislature “to pass a bill to replace criminal penalties with a civil fine for adults who possess a small amount of marijuana.”
“Taken together, these developments demonstrate how an increasing number of voters and lawmakers across the country no longer support the notion that otherwise law-abiding citizens should be arrested, slapped with a criminal record and possibly thrown behind bars, simply for choosing to use a substance that is safer than alcohol,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “We know from efforts in other states that decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana allows police to focus on more serious crimes and also produces a net financial gain through saved law-enforcement costs and the revenue generated by civil fines. Lawmakers everywhere should take heed of these examples, especially in these troubled economic times.”
Currently 12 states have laws that reduce the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil fine. A decriminalization bill in Rhode Island is co-sponsored by 48% of House members.
graphic: Radical Rags