New Hampshire Legislature Takes Another Step Towards Decriminalizing Marijuana

After previous attempts to decriminalize marijuana in New Hampshire were vetoed by Gov. John Lynch (D), the legislature in Concord will again take up two bills that would dramatically lessen the punishment for the possession, use, and cultivation of pot, this time with the hopes of securing a veto-proof majority:

House Bill 1526 would make possession of up to an ounce of marijuana punishable only by a fine of up to $100. Pot possession would no longer be considered a misdemeanor offense, as is the case in Massachusetts after voters there passed a ballot measure.
Another bill to be discussed at the hearing, HB 1527, would go even further, exempting the cultivation of marijuana under the controlled drug act.

Freshman Rep. Kyle Tasker (R) is one of the first bill’s primary backers, and expressed his hope that a compromise would be reached that would allow the House and Senate to secure enough support to override a likely veto from the governor. “This is a bipartisan issue. Everyone agrees there’s a need for change,” Tasker told the Union Leader.

The pro-legalization advocacy organization NORML lists 14 states that have decriminalized pot “to some degree,” though several of the states listed still treat possession as a misdemeanor. In New Hampshire, as with many other states, marijuana convictions are almost always pleaded out, resulting in lesser sentencing while still attaching a criminal record to violators, law enforcement officials say.

Yet liberalizing state marijuana laws will only achieve half of what’s necessary to reform America’s overreaching drug laws. Even if every single state repealed their marijuana laws tomorrow, that would do nothing to change the federal government’s strict prohibition. Despite a study by the Centers for Disease Control which revealed that 15,000 people died in 2008 from overdosing on legal prescription painkillers, the federal government still treats the much less dangerous drug marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance — in the same category as cocaine and heroin. Legal prescription drugs like OxyCotin and Vicodin remain in lower classifications with fewer regulations.

Polling in New Hampshire that was conducted the last time the legislature debated these bills in 2008 indicates that a large majority of voters support reforming the state’s pot laws. That’s similar to a national Gallup poll in 2011 that showed for the first time a majority of voters support legalizing the use of marijuana.