The New Hampshire House Wednesday voted 214-137 to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, but the measure faces an uncertain future after Gov. John Lynch (D) immediately threatened to veto it. The House tally leaves supporters about 20 votes short of a veto-proof majority.
Under the bill, HB 1653, adults caught possessing or transporting up to a quarter-ounce of pot would be subject to a $400 fine. Minors caught with a quarter-ounce or less would be subject to a $200 fine and their parents would be notified. Youthful offenders would also have to complete a drug awareness program and community service within a year or face an additional $1000 fine. Under current New Hampshire law, small-time pot possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.
The House passed a similar measure in 2008, but it died in the Senate after Gov. Lynch threatened to veto it. Last year, the House dropped decrim and instead concentrated on passing a medical marijuana dispensary bill. Lynch vetoed that. The House overrode his veto, but the Senate came up two votes short.
Lynch was back in form on Wednesday. "Marijuana is a controlled drug that remains illegal under federal law. I share the law enforcement community's concerns about proliferation of this drug," Lynch said. "In addition, New Hampshire parents are struggling to keep their kids away from marijuana and other drugs. We should not make the jobs of parents -- or law enforcement -- harder by sending a false message that some marijuana use is acceptable."
"This makes three years in a row that the House has passed a bill attempting to reform New Hampshire's archaic marijuana policies," said Matt Simon, executive director for the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, which led the lobbying fight for the bill. "Unfortunately, Gov. Lynch has continued to show little interest in learning what the House has learned about these issues."
The bill now goes to the Senate. But unless advocates can pass it overwhelmingly there and come up without another 20 or so votes in the House, it is likely to meet the same fate as the 2008 decrim bill and last year's medical marijuana bill.