CONCORD - In a stunning development, the House of Representatives
voted Tuesday to decriminalize possession of up to a quarter-ounce of
Currently, possession of this small amount equal to about seven or
eight joints can result in up to a year in jail or $2,000 fine. The
typical punishment is a large fine.
The amended bill makes it a violation rather than a criminal
misdemeanor with a fine of up to $200.
The 193-141 vote came over the strong opposition of a House policy
committee and law enforcement officials. Rep. Jeffrey Fontas,
D-Nashua, said it's unfair young students lose their federally
financed aid for college after any drug conviction.
"How can we expect young people to get back on the right path if we
take away every opportunity to do so?" Fontas said.
Rep. John Tholl, R-Whitefield, said the measure was fraught with
For example, someone who possessed the small amount of marijuana and
decided to share it with a friend could be charged with a felony.
Anyone caught transporting this small amount of marijuana could still
be subject to a jail term, said Tholl, who is the part-time police
chief in the North County town of Dalton.
"If you send a message to the young people of our state that a
quarter ounce of marijuana is no big deal, like a traffic ticket,
what you are doing is you are telling them we are not going to be
looking at this very hard," Tholl said.
Gov. John Lynch is opposed to the measure and will urge the state
Senate to reject it, according to press secretary Colin Manning.
"This sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire's young
people about the very real dangers of drug use. That is why the
governor joins with the House Criminal Justice Committee and law
enforcement in opposing this bill," Manning said.
"If the bill were to reach the governor's desk, which seems very
unlikely, the governor would veto it."
Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster, D-Nashua, said the measure is
dead on arrival.
"I know of no interest in the Senate on either side of the aisle to
entertain this," Foster told reporters. "The governor has expressed
his view, but I don't think he will see it coming to him."
Rep. David Welch, R-Kingston, a strong, law enforcement advocate,
said this form of criminalization was modest compared to past bills.
"I have to admit I never thought I would be up here speaking for the
amendment," Welch said.
If adopted, New Hampshire would become the 12th state to repeal
crimes for marijuana possession, starting with Oregon in 1973, and
most recently Nevada, which passed its law in 2001.
Other states to have made possession of small amounts a violation
include Maine, New York, California and Minnesota.
Though this bill is unlikely to become state law, the House vote
marks a major victory for a grass roots group who has worked on
decriminalizing or legalization of marijuana for the past three years.
"Our representatives in the House did the right thing for New
Hampshire and especially for New Hampshire's young people," said Matt
Simon of the NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.
"It's time for the Senate to finish the work we've started here and
bring some sanity to our marijuana sentencing policies."
The original bill would have decriminalized five times as much as
this approved bill did. Supporters sought to sharply reduce the
amount after it received a lot of early opposition to it.
Rep. Jason Bedrick, R-Windham, said he became an advocate for it
because it still makes possession of any amount illegal.
It does not change motor vehicle laws that consider driving while
under the influence of any illegal drug a misdemeanor crime with
license suspension for at least 60 days.
"The question today is not whether marijuana should be illegal, but
whether a teenager making a student decision should face up to a year
in prison and loss of all federal funding for college," Bedrick said.
Rep. John Hunt, R-Rindge, opposed the measure, but was not surprised
40 GOP members supported it.
"I heard several Republicans say they were for it because they
thought it could lead to less overcrowding and less spending for our
jails," Hunt said.
The GOP breakdown was 94-40 against it.
House Democrats broke for it by a count of 153-46 with the House's
lone independent member against it.
BILL AT A GLANCE
Bill No. HB 1623
SPONSORS: Reps. Jeffrey Fontas and Andrew Edwards, D- Nashua.
DESCRIPTION: Decriminalizes the possession of up to one quarter of
one ounce of marijuana to a violation that carries a $200 fine.
Currently, possession is a criminal misdemeanor that can result in up
to a year in county jail and/or fines up to $2,000.
STATUS: The House of Representatives approved the amended bill, 193-141.
Newshawk: news as printed - the no spin zone www.mapinc.org
Pubdate: Wed, 19 Mar 2008
Source: Telegraph, The (Nashua, NH)
Copyright: 2008 Telegraph Publishing Company
Author: Kevin Landrigan, Telegraph Staff
Cited: NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy http://nhcommonsense.org/
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/pot.htm (Marijuana)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?224 (Marijuana and Driving)
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/decrim.htm (Decrim/Legalization)