New Hampshire to Hold Marijuana Legalization Hearings at the State House on Thursday

New Hampshire to Hold Marijuana Legalization Hearings at the State House on Thursday

CONCORD, NH — A committee in the New Hampshire House will hear testimony Thursday on three separate bills that would reform marijuana laws in the Granite State. Two of the bills would  reduce or eliminate penalties for possession of marijuana, and the third would regulate and tax marijuana for adults 21 and over.

All three bills will be heard by the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, and are scheduled for Thursday, February 14 beginning at 1:00 pm.

The first bill, HB 492, would make marijuana legal for adults 21 and over, allowing individuals to cultivate up to six plants for personal use and setting up a framework for taxing and regulating the production and sale of marijuana.  HB 492 would also allow for licensed and regulated marijuana retail stores, in addition to licensed facilities to cultivate, and manufacture marijuana.

The bill is designed in the  ” interest of the efficient use of law enforcement resources, enhancing revenue for public purposes, and individual freedom” for the people of New Hampshire. A similar bill, HB 1705, fell one vote short of being approved by the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee  in 2012.

The second bill, HB 337, would entirely remove marijuana from the New Hampshire criminal code.  This bill would end marijuana prohibition in New Hampshire, but would not establish a system of regulated cultivation, sales, or taxation.  It would also repeal prohibitions on paraphernalia related to marijuana use or cultivation.  Similar bills have been introduced in New Hampshire in the past, but none has received significant support from legislators.

The third bill, HB 621, would decriminalize possession of less than one ounce of marijuana. The bill would reduce the penalty for possessing less than one ounce of marijuana to a violation punishable by a fine of up to $100. Minors under 18 would also be subject to parental notification and a court-ordered drug awareness program.

Currently, possession of any amount of marijuana in New Hampshire is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

A similar bill, HB 1526, passed the House in a 162-161 vote on  in March 2012, but it was unanimously rejected by the Senate. Previously, in 2010, the New Hampshire House passed HB 1653 (213-137), but it was rejected by the Senate following a veto threat by Gov. John Lynch.

New England states have long supported marijuana reform. New Hampshire remains the only state in New England that does not allow the medical use of marijuana.  Neighbors in Maine, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut have all decriminalized possessing small amounts of marijuana, and Vermont is considering two decriminalization bills so far in 2013.

Polling conducted in January of 2013 by Public Policy Polling reported that 53% of New Hampshire voters support changing state law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, only 37% were opposed.   Polls also show that over two-thirds of New Hampshire voters support medical marijuana coming to the Granite State.

New Hampshire has been targeted by the Marijuana Policy Project for a 2013 medical marijuana bill, which they expect incoming Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who is a strong supporter of medical marijuana, to sign if it passes the Legislature. Medical marijuana bills passed the legislature in 2009 and 2012, but were vetoed by former Gov. John Lynch.