While many advocates thought it would never happen, it seems that New Hampshire is on the verge of becoming the last of the New England states to decriminalize marijuana.
Earlier this week, the state House of Representatives put its seal of approval on a bill aimed at eliminating the criminal penalties associated with the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure originally called for anything up to an ounce to be considered a civil infraction, punishable with a small fine instead of jail time, but the Senate pushed for lower limits – setting the standard at three quarters of an ounce without the threat of criminal prosecution.
The bill is now on its way to the desk of Governor Chris Sununu for a signature. Several reports indicate that the bill has more than a fair shot at becoming law.
During his campaign, Sununu said more than once that he would support efforts to decriminalize marijuana. The governor is one of those rare Republicans that believe this modest policy change can help take some of the pressure of police resources and reduce “costly incarcerations.”
If all goes according to plan, the new law would force police officers to simply slap minor pot offenders with a $100 fine. No longer would these people be dragged to the local jail, only to find themselves jammed up in the criminal justice system for an extended period of time. The only way a pot offender could get into more serious trouble under this proposal is if they happen to become a repeat offender.
Although prosecutors argue that not many pot offenders these days are seeing the inside of a prison cell, the criminal record that typically comes with this offense has a way of crippling a person’s stance in society – preventing them from furthering their education, taking advantage of employment opportunities, as well as hindering other crucial aspect of living.
“It’s been a long time coming, but New Hampshire is finally moving toward adopting marijuana policies that are consistent with the state’s ‘Live Free or Die’ motto,” Matt Simon, New England political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told the Concord Monitor.
According to the Associated Press, the fines collected from pot offenses would be used to fund substance abuse prevention and treatment programs.
The latest statistics from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) shows that New Hampshire spent more than $6.5 million in 2010 trying to put a leash on marijuana–related crimes – most of which were for simple possession.
If Governor Sununu signs the bill, New Hampshire will join 21 states that have already put similar laws on the books.