- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2017

New Hampshire is slated to decriminalize marijuana possession within a matter of months after the state House of Representatives approved legislation Thursday reducing penalties for individuals caught with small amounts of pot.

The state House passed the decriminalization measure by a voice vote Thursday sans debate, sending the bill to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk to be signed into law.

Mr. Sununu, a Republican, said earlier this month that he plans to approve the measure, House Bill 640, and applauded the state legislature for passing what he called “common sense marijuana reform.”

If Mr. Sununu signs the bill as expected, the legislation will put the Live Free or Die State on path to join the rest of New England in rolling back penalties for minor marijuana possession.

“It is time for New Hampshire to join the rest of New England in adopting more sensible marijuana possession laws,” the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire said Thursday, WMUR-TV reported.

The bipartisan-backed bill makes possessing up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by a fine of $100 for first- and second-time adult offenders rather than a misdemeanor, arrestable offense. Individuals busted for possession four times will face a Class B misdemeanor charge, and anyone under the age of 18 will be subject to a court-mandated, substance-abuse assessment once the new law takes effect.

The House had initially passed a bill letting individuals possess a full ounce of pot, but the Senate reduced that threshold by a fourth before giving its stamp of approval.

“New Hampshire remains the only New England state where an adult can be arrested, face up to a year in jail, and suffer a lifelong criminal record simply for possessing a personal use amount of marijuana,” Erik Altieri, the executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said in a statement when the Senate passed H.B. 640 earlier this month. “We commend lawmakers for finally correcting this injustice.”

Mr. Sununu is expected to sign the bill within the next two weeks, the governor’s office told WMUR.

The New Hampshire Senate is reviewing a separate measure, meanwhile, that would authorize the state to study the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana, the Concord Monitor reported Thursday.

New Hampshire is already one of 29 states in the nation where doctors can recommend marijuana to patients diagnosed with certain medical conditions. Another eight states and the nation’s capital have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, notwithstanding the federal government’s prohibition on pot.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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