By Paul Armentano
The northeast has historically been a hotbed for marijuana use — with five of the six New England states self-reporting some of the highest percentages of marijuana consumption in the nation. But recently New England has also become a regional leader in marijuana law reform.
Lawmakers in every New England state are now debating marijuana law reform legislation. Here’s a closer look at what’s happening.
Connecticut: The nutmeg state is the only northeast state besides New Hampshire that has yet to enact some form of marijuana decriminalization or medicalization. But that drought may end this year. Weeks ago, newly elected Democrat Gov. Dan Malloy publicly affirmed his support for legislation that seeks to reduce minor marijuana possession to a noncriminal offense. Malloy endorsed reducing adult marijuana possession penalties from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $1,000 fine) to an infraction, punishable by a nominal fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. Gov. Malloy has also spoken out in favor of legalizing the physician-authorized use of medical marijuana. (Similar legislation was passed by the legislature in 2007, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Jodi Rell.) You can contact your state elected officials in favor of both of these proposals here and here. You can also get involved with Connecticut NORML here.
Maine: Maine voters have twice approved ballot initiatives in recent years addressing the medical use and distribution of medical cannabis. And in 2009, Maine lawmakers increased the amount of marijuana that may be classified as a civil offense from 1.25 ounces to 2.5 ounces (the second highest threshold in the nation). This year state lawmakers have introduced a pair of bills, LD 754 and LD 750, to expand the state’s existing marijuana decriminalization law. LD 754 would amend existing law so that the adult possession of over 2.5 ounces but less than 5 ounces is classified as a civil violation. LD 750 would amend existing law so that the cultivation of up to six marijuana plants by an adult is also classified as a civil violation. Both measures have been referred to the Joint Committee Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee. You can contact your lawmakers in support of these measures here. NORML is also working with state lawmakers regarding the introduction of separate legislation to legalize adult marijuana possession, production, and distribution. You can learn more about this pending legislation here.
Massachusetts: In 2008, a whopping 65 percent of voters in endorsed Question 2 decriminalizing the adult possession of an ounce or less of cannabis to a fine-only civil offense. Now a coalition of state lawmakers are backing House Bill 1371 to legalize and regulate adult marijuana production and sales in Massachusetts. You can watch a 60-minute discussion with the bill’s lead sponsor and supporter here. You can contact your state elected officials in support of HB 1371 here, or by visiting the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition/NORML here. You can learn about a separate state legislative effort to regulate the use of medical marijuana here.
New Hampshire: Lawmakers this week heard testimony in favor of House Bill 442, which legalizes the physician-supervised use of medical marijuana. (Similar legislation passed both the House and the Senate in 2009, but was vetoed by Governor John Lynch.) You can write your lawmakers in favor of HB 442 via NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here, or by contacting NHCompassion.org.
Rhode Island: In coming days, Rhode Island state regulators will become only the third in the nation to begin licensing medical marijuana dispensaries. A coalition of lawmakers is also debating the amending the state’s penalties for non-patients. House Bill 5031 amends state law so that the adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by one year in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. You can voice your support for HB 5031 by clicking here.
Vermont: Two separate marijuana law reform measures are pending before Vermont lawmakers. Senate Bill 17 proposes expanding the state’s medical marijuana law to permit the establishment of two nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. You can learn more about this measure here. House Bill 427 amends state law so that the adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana is reduced from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by six months in jail and a $500 maximum fine) to a civil offense, punishable by a $150 fine, no jail time, and no criminal record. Passage of the measure, which has been endorsed by Democrat Governor Peter Shumlin, will allow state law enforcement to reallocate an estimated $700,000 annually in criminal justice resources. You can contact your House member in support of HB 427 here.
For up-to-date information on marijuana law reform measures pending in other states, please visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.