New Hampshire: House Passes Marijuana Decriminalization Bill
By Steve Elliott
The New Hampshire House on Thursday, for the fourth time in five years, passed a bill which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But Governor Maggie Hassan has said she's not in favor of decriminalization, and the New Hampshire Senate has shot down all three of the recent attempts by the House to pass such a law.
Bill supporters said that marijuana prohibition doesn't have public support and is a financial and regulatory burden on the state, reports Morgan True at The Associated Press. Supporters noted that both alcohol and tobacco have worse health and societal impacts than does cannabis.
"A criminal offense and a criminal record can do much more harm than a small amount of marijuana," said Rep. Joel Winters (D-Nashua) during debate on the House floor.
The House voted 214-115 to pass the decrim bill after Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright (D-Nashua) lost a floor fight over the issue, reports Dan Tuohy at NashuaPatch. Harriott-Gathright brought the bill to the House on behalf of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which recommended the House kill the bill.
Harriott-Gathright claimed that marijuana is addictive, and that is has both short-term and long-term deleterious effects to the heatlh. "It's really not something to be ignored," she claimed.
Rep. Laura Pantelakos (D-Portsmouth) joined Harriott-Gathright in urging the House to reject the decrim bill. "Marijuana is a gateway drug to harder drugs," Pantelakos claimed, ignoring studies which show otherwise.
As introduced, the bill would have decriminalized up to an ounce of marijuana. A motion to kill the bill failed 136-193. Rep. Joel Winters (D-Nashua) then moved an amendment for less than a quarter of an ounce; the final vote to pass the bill was 214-115.
As amended, the bill provides that any person "who possesses 1/4 of an ounce of marijuana or less shall be guilty of a violation and shall be subject to a fine of up to $200." The bill would also require those 18 and under to attend drug rehabilitation classes or face a $1,000 fine.
A recent vote on a bill which would have legalized marijuana altogether got a surprising-to-some 112 "Yes" votes.
Earlier this week, the House passed a bill legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients. Hassan and the Senate have voiced support for the medical marijuana bill, though it may see more changes before it it's the Governor's desk.