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Marijuana: New Hampshire House Passes Decriminalization Bill

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #528)
Drug War Issues

In a vote that caught most observers by surprise, the New Hampshire House of Representatives approved a scaled-back marijuana decriminalization bill by a margin of 193-141. To become law, the measure must still pass the state Senate, where it will receive a cool reception, and be signed by the governor, who has signaled his opposition to it.

Sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua) and Andrew Edwards (D-Nashua), the bill, HB 1623, would make possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by a maximum $200 fine. Currently, small-time possession is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine.

The favorable vote came despite the bill's rejection by a House policy committee and the opposition of law enforcement officials. Among arguments raised by proponents was that young offenders would be unfairly punished by having a marijuana offense on their records.

"How can we expect young people to get back on the right path if we take away every opportunity to do so?" Rep. Fontas said during the debate.

That sentiment was echoed on the Republican side of the aisle, too. "The question today is not whether marijuana should be illegal, but whether a teenager making a stupid decision should face up to a year in prison and loss of all federal funding for college,'' said Rep. Jason Bedrick (R-Windham).

Rep. John Tholl (R-Whitefield), a part-time police chief in the village of Dalton, was typical of opponents. He warned darkly that anyone sharing small amounts of marijuana could be charged with a felony and that anyone transporting it could still face jail time. Still, the measure would send the wrong message, he said.

"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.

According to the Nashua Telegraph, Gov. John Lynch also thinks the bill sends the wrong message. His press secretary, Colin Manning, said Lynch will urge the Senate to reject it.

"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) told the newspaper the bill is going nowhere in his chamber. "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.''

The New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy, which has led the lobbying charge for the bill, praised the House and urged the Senate to act. "Our representatives in the House did the right thing for New Hampshire -- and especially for New Hampshire's young people," said the coalition's Matt Simon. "It's time for the Senate to finish the work we've started here and bring some sanity to our marijuana sentencing policies."

Eleven states have decriminalized marijuana possession, mostly in the 1970s. Nevada was the most recent, decriminalizing in 2001.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous (not verified)

Tholl is still the uninformed jerk here! ''if our young people see 1/4 a misdemeaner a parking ticket[they give 200 dollar parking ticketts up there?]what signal are we sending them? well lets see,That we're still to stupid to be considered bipeds? That we're good under the table money from the big Drug Cartels be it Merck,Phiezers others!!,Their Senate is little better and their Gov.must have big time stocks in booze and pharma co.'s... by the way i'm ....donl you'll see my name all over

Fri, 03/21/2008 - 2:36pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

what we NEED is full legalization. That would take marijuana off the black market (aka the streets). That would take away the violence associated with marijuana sales in competition between dealers. We need it to be regulated. Regulation would put marijuana in stores like a liquor store where you would need valid ID to purchase and would keep kids from obtaining it. Ask any high school kid which is easier to get- weed or alcohol. They'll all tell you weed cause the liquor stores dont sell to them, but the degenerate drug dealers who are part of criminal organizations don't care how old they are- ITS ALREADY ILLEGAL. Think about it.

Tue, 01/27/2009 - 2:20pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

i never understood it.. you can get drunk, fight some one, piss on their lawn, then wake up the next morning unable to go to work. - with marijuana, you just become tired after smoking it, so you're urged to sleep.

you can pop a couple advil to cure a minor head ache, but take too many and you're dead. - smoke some good marijuana and it can temporarily mask minor aches and pains, including headaches, the same way advil would... except you can't over dose from it.

I'm 17 years old, almost 18. so i party a lot, as any highschool senior would. I've been smoking weed on a regular basis since i was 15 and haven't had much problems with it besides the law looking down on it. I've been drinking for a couple years and I've had some horrible experiences; fights, becoming sick, harassing people and being harassed, etc.
It's fun, yeah... but much, much more dangerous.

i just dont get it...

Tue, 10/27/2009 - 11:14pm Permalink
Seth Rogen (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

You have absolutely no valid points. Young people are going to smoke whether or not it's a misdemeanor.

Legalization would benefit our society.

Thu, 04/08/2010 - 12:49pm Permalink
Realistic (not verified)

In reply to by Seth Rogen (not verified)

Our state motto is Live Free or Die huh well thats sounds like a bunch of bullshit to me if someone can not even indulge in a plant that doesnt cause numerous deaths each year. Our state is a joke we should change our motto to Live and Die, because thats about all we really stand for. Bunch of up tight narrow minded twits.

Thu, 04/22/2010 - 4:20pm Permalink
Anonymous343432423 (not verified)

In reply to by Realistic (not verified)

I totally agree with this, marijuana has been proven in multiple studies to be harmless, it can help prevent/stop cancer, help people with mental disorders, stop physical pain, prevent/decrease the size of tumors. It grows from the ground, why do these stuck up officials treat marijuana usage like cocaine usage?

Tue, 07/13/2010 - 9:34pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Please change your headline!

They did not pass a 'decriminalization' bill.

They simply made the penalty less severe.

MJ is still illegal to own in NH.

Fri, 03/21/2008 - 5:14pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

There's a difference between decriminalized and legalized.

Decriminalization only means that the offender will be issued a ticket or some other sort of citation, rather than face jailtime.

Same thing with running a stop-sign. It's still illegal, but you'll get a ticket for it rather than getting hauled off to jail.

If marijuana possession was decriminalized up to a quarter, then getting "busted" with it would result in it being confiscated along with a ticket instead of being arrested and processed into the court system.

But the main thing you should notice about this article is the drug warriors' argument that any sort of reform would "send the wrong message to young people". You'll see this repeated ALL---THE---TIME whenever drug policy is being debated. It's their only defense.

Well, they're refusal to reform failing and unconstitutional drug policy sends a few messages of it's own:

1) America, self-proclaimed to be Land of the Free, does not allow it's citizens the freedom to decide what kind of lifestyle they wish to live. It's apparently the government's job to hold our hand and tell us what's good and bad, even when they're wrong. Only a free country can have higher incarceration rates than every other country in the world (Note; sarcasm).

2) It's better to save face than to admit you were wrong.

3) The best way to protect children from drugs is to arrest them, send them to jail or prison, let them be brutally raped for a few years, and then release them with a record of conviction which will result in denial of future educational or employment options. Hey, that's better for them than letting them smoke a little weed right?

4) Pro-drug warriors still own the moral high-ground. After all, drug use is a question of morality right? Using drugs is immoral, at least in the religious puritan sense. Considering the correlation between anti-drug warriors and religious morals, it's somewhat ironic that these moralistic zealots are basically claiming that GOD made a mistake by creating marijuana.

I can't even write anymore without wanting to puke.

Sun, 03/23/2008 - 1:21pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

It seems that the people of New Hampshire should change their state motto because clearly they aren't concerned with living free....

It is beginning to look like they only solution to the drug war will be the ammo box... because the jury box and the ballot box have failed to achieve victory.

We should make it so that being a "prohibitionist" is a bad thing... worse than a communist or a fascist and almost as bad as a pedophile.

Mon, 03/24/2008 - 11:23am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

you see people dying because of drinking but you rarely see people dying from marijuana if anything alchohol should be illegal

Tue, 03/25/2008 - 12:58pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

Truth: I Got High and No One Died.

this is rediculous. i totally agree that drinking is worse and it has been proven that you cant die from smoking weed, it can eventually give you long time problems, which may cause you to die but, you cant overdose and die, the most that will happen is you get too high and pass the fuck out. big deal.

or drink a bottle, get alcohol posioning and yea could very well die if its too bad.

Tue, 09/23/2008 - 4:47am Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

The government could easily grow some bangin tree and in mass amounts too so they could sell it for good prices. Boom right there everones happy, ppl who smoke can easily get bud for good prices, mad drug dealers out of business, and these federal assholes can pretty much grow some xtra cash

Thu, 03/26/2009 - 3:01pm Permalink
Anonymous (not verified)

You think that New Hmapshire should deserve the freedom as every other state but understand that a large income is gained by keeping it under wraps, how about hemp for one helping legalize cannibis helps hemp and its the arch nemesis of petroleum which for some reason still leads in our energy consumption. The people in charge dont care about any of your opinions, in Big Island hawaii a similar bill passed yet because of our Mayor Election happened at the same time Billy Kenoi Refused to observe the bill and said that the police force is a cannibis busting organiztion. Dont you see that it goes much deeper than kids getting screwed over for charges; 200 dollars encourages kids? Its far better than destroying their livers from pharms and alchohol. IF we legalize many gangs have less to work with, the government may be forced to consider cannabis, therefore this whole power struggle around the world could end, due to the fact that cannabis hemp could and should be used for every single application plastic, oil, fabric not only is it renewable but it replenishes the soil and helps the ph level, the opposite of cotton. So where do we start from now? Ideally this or that cannot work. Is our government capable of making advanced decisions that quite literally could change the entire outcome of the earth? Its up to the people now. Its in our constitution, our founding fathers did not create this place to dream that it would become somewhat of a new rome...

Mon, 03/30/2009 - 9:23am Permalink
Patrick12583 (not verified)

I really wish law enforcment would do their job, and stay out of the law making process. It is clear to all that (except the ignorant, and people with other agendas). If this was put to a public vote then it would pass with flying colors. It is also clear that prescription medications KILL, our kids, marijuana does not. So lets keep spending huge amounts of money combating a plant that makes people giggle, lets also throw money at the big pharma to kill our kids. Live free or die my ass! O yeah, dont vote for Lynch!!!

Thu, 02/25/2010 - 6:11pm Permalink
Seth Rogen (not verified)

I got arrested the other day for possesion of less than a 1/4 ounce.

I later find that it will most likley result in a criminal record and possibly result in a major fine. How can somethin as little as smoking weed give a person a criminal record? After all its not like I did harm to anyone and lets face it weed is safer than both ciggarettes and achohol.

Keeping it illegal will never keep it off the streets, so why not just legalize?? A good first step would be lessenig the fine and punishment. The people of Nh need to elect polititions with some common sense.


Thu, 04/08/2010 - 12:39pm Permalink
Anonymous3412341234 (not verified)

If we legalized, we could help get ourselves out of debt. Look at this:

Tue, 07/13/2010 - 9:40pm Permalink

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