A bill that would decriminalize the possession of up to 1.25 ounces of marijuana won broad support at a New Hampshire House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee hearing Tuesday. Only representatives of the state attorney general's office and the New Hampshire Chiefs of Police spoke against the measure, while both a police officer and a corrections official were among those speaking in favor of it.
Decriminalization offers a more sensible way of handling small-time marijuana offenses, New Hampshire police officer Bradley Jardis told the committee. "I have been kicked, I have been punched, I have been choked, I have been dropped to the ground, I've had two people jump on top of me punching me while I was on duty -- by people who had been drinking alcohol," he said. "I have never been to a domestic violence call or a fight call where someone smokes marijuana."
The bill also gained support from Richard Van Wickler, superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections, who told the committee decriminalization has worked in other places. "Jurisdictions globally and nationally that have passed laws such as the one that's before you today have had success with it," he said. "It has served the purpose of justice; it has moved closer to crime policies based on fact rather than fiction."
Speaking in opposition to the bill, Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency, head of the police chiefs' association, was asked by Rep. Timothy Robertson (D-Keene) if he would also be in favor of reinstating Alcohol Prohibition. After a pause, Morency said it was something he would consider.
That sparked a reaction from the New Hampshire Coalition for Commonsense Marijuana Policy, which issued a press release the same day as the hearing criticizing Morency's views. "Alcohol Prohibition is widely considered an enormous disaster that increased crime and violence," said the group's Matt Simon. "We all want safer communities, but Chief Morency's ideas for how to achieve that are as misguided regarding alcohol as they are regarding marijuana."
According to Rep. Fontas, HB1623 is more about preserving the opportunities of young people rather than anything to do with marijuana. He told the Laconia Citizen a marijuana possession conviction could bar young people from receiving federal financial aid for college or see them excluded from certain jobs. "If we are concerned enough about young people going down the wrong track then we should not prevent them from opportunities that get them on the right one," said Fontas.
The hearing concluded with the committee deciding to form a four-member subcommittee to study the bill further and come back with a recommendation before taking the bill to a full committee vote. If it passes that hurdle, it's on to a full vote in the House, and then off to the Senate.