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New Hampshire Legislators Debate Marijuana Decriminalization

Legislators “want to have a punishment that fits the crime.”

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The New Hampshire Senate is currently debating the details of a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession. Last month, the state House overwhelmingly voted in favor of a bill that would make possession of an ounce or less of pot a violation, not a crime. The bill would prohibit police from arresting anyone possessing that small amount of weed, and set a fine of $100 for a first-time offense.

“The prohibition is crumbling,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “We at least need to stop arresting people and tying up the criminal justice system with possession cases.”

A 2013 study by the ACLU found that the state spent $6.5 million on enforcing marijuana laws in 2010 alone. “The public seems to want this,” Franklin Police Chief David Goldstein said. “But at the same time, we still recognize our responsibility to be the guardians, if you will, of public safety.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has shown his support for decriminalization, making the bill likely to pass in some form. The state Senate, however, wants to cut back on the scope of the bill. Republican Majority Leader Jeb Bradley proposed a change to reduce the legal limit to half an ounce, and to increase the first-time fine to $300. “It put the criminalization back into a decriminalization bill,” said Democratic Rep. Renny Cushing, sponsor of the original bill.

Both Bradley and Cushing have said they are willing to discuss changes to the bill so that it can pass in some form. “We want to have a punishment that fits the crime,” Cushing said. “We are a libertarian state where someone who’s just doing something that would be legal in another state ought not face a year a jail.”

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