On June 21st, Governor Maggie Hassan signed legislation, Senate Bill 498, into law to reduce the penalty for first-time possession of marijuana offenses from a Class A offense to an unspecified misdemeanor.
Members of the House previously voted 298 to 58 to amend Senate Bill 498 to make first-time offenses a civil violation rather than a criminal offense. The civil penalty would have been limited to a fine only: no arrest, prosecution, or criminal record. Subsequent offenses would have continued to be classified as misdemeanors.
However, members of the Senate failed to concur with the House changes. In conference, Senate leadership moved to keep marijuana possession offenses classified as a misdemeanor but agreed to lower the fine from $ 500 to $ 350 for the first offense. However, this change will do nothing to reduce arrests or to reduce the stigma and ancillary penalties surrounding a marijuana conviction.
In past years, the Senate has been consistently hostile to any House efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession penalties.
According to marijuana arrest data compiled by the ACLU, police in New Hampshire annually arrest an estimated 3,000 individuals for simple marijuana possession offenses. These criminalization policies are out-of-step with the views of New Hampshire adults, 72 percent of whom now endorse legalizing and regulating the plant, according to a July, 2015 WMUR Granite State Poll.
NORML would like to thank those of you who contacted your state lawmakers in support of this legislation.