- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Live Free or Die State has become the last in New England to decriminalize marijuana after New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu autographed a bill rolling back penalties for cannabis possession.

The Republican governor signed his name Tuesday to H.B. 640 , culminating a yearslong, bipartisan bid to reduce criminal penalties for individuals caught with small amounts of pot.

The bill makes possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana or up to five grams of hash a violation rather than misdemeanor for first-, second- and third-time offenders 18 and older punishable by fines of up to $300. A fourth offense would be treated as a class B misdemeanor, and minors would be subject to a delinquency petition.

The bill would also prohibit police from arresting individuals for simple possession and eliminate the possibility of jail time for individuals convicted of having small amounts of pot.

New Hampshire is now on course to become the 22nd state in the country — and the last in New England — to decriminalize marijuana once the bill takes effect Sept. 16.

“Now all of New England is a decriminalized marijuana zone!” tweeted Marijuana Majority, a cannabis law reform group.

Similar attempts at decriminalizing marijuana within New Hampshire have partially succeeded in the past, but Mr. Sununu’s Democratic predecessor, Maggie Hassan, adamantly opposed those efforts and vowed to veto any related bills while in office.

Mr. Sununu campaigned on decriminalizing weed and previously called H.B. 640 “common-sense marijuana reform.”

“The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this commonsense reform,” Matt Simon, Marijuana Policy Project’s New England political director, said in a statement. “Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Gov. Sununu appears to understand that ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than just a motto on a license plate.”

While 22 states have decriminalized marijuana possession, eight and the nation’s capital have passed laws legalizing recreational marijuana use. Adults in five of those states can legally purchase recreational marijuana from licensed dispensaries, and policymakers are in the midst of preparing to begin retail sales next year in California, Maine and Massachusetts. Medical marijuana, meanwhile, is legal in 29 states, including New Hampshire, and D.C.

The Justice Department considers cannabis to be a Schedule 1 narcotic prohibited by federal law, but the Trump administration has failed so far to intervene in states with recreational and medical programs in place.

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