New Hampshire has become the 22nd state to decriminalize certain levels of marijuana possession. The Schedule I drug remains illegal in the state, but no longer carries the threat of prison time.
On Sept. 16, a state law that decriminalized marijuana possession officially went into effect in New Hampshire. Previously, a person found possessing marijuana in the state would potentially be charged with a criminal misdemeanor and face up to a year in prison as well as a $2,000 fine. With the passage of the law, marijuana possession has been downgraded to a civil violation and people found possessing up to 21 grams of cannabis will face a maximum fine of $300, Forbes reports.
First-time offenders will face a $100 fine and third-time offenders will be fined $300. Only after a fourth incident will offenders face a potential class B misdemeanor charge.
Republican New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu originally signed House Bill 640 into law on July 19, Patch reports.
"Decriminalization will reduce the burden low-level marijuana offenses place on police officers and judges who have to deal with these cases every day," Superintendent Richard Wickler of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections said following the bill's passage. "I look forward to seeing our justice system refocus on serious crimes and use resources more effectively to keep our families and communities safe."
On May 9, a poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 68 percent of state residents supported legalization of recreational marijuana use, while only 27 percent were opposed.
Furthermore, 80 percent of Democratic residents supported legalizing recreational cannabis use while 52 percent of Republican residents agreed, according to New Hampshire Public Radio.
Andy Smith, director of the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, detailed the effect of age on opinions on legalization in an interview with NHPR: "The biggest difference we see is on age. Among young people, those under the age of 34, 89 percent favor legalization for recreational purposes. The only group in which less than two thirds support this is are people 65 and older. There we see only 36 percent support. But it’s important to point out this has to go through the legislature, and the legislature is primarily people in that 65 and older category, so I think you’re seeing a disconnect here between what’s going on in the legislature and what the public wants."
Analyst Matt Simon of the pro-cannabis Marijuana Policy Project issued a statement praising New Hampshire lawmakers' move towards decriminalization of cannabis possession and urged them to go all the way to full legalization.
"New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents' lead on this issue," Simon said. "Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the Legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire."