New Hampshire House Approves Bill to Decriminalize Marijuana by Overwhelming Margin

CONCORD, N.H. (Mar. 14, 2017) – On Wednesday, the New Hampshire House passed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana possession in the state. Passage into law would take a step toward further blocking federal cannabis prohibition in practice in the state.

Along with 11 bipartisan co-sponsors, Rep. Robert Cushing (D-Hampton) introduced House Bill 640 (HB640) to reduce “the penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana to a violation… allowing offenders to pay fines by mail will result in less time and resources spent on such cases, allowing police and courts to spend more time and resources dealing with serious crimes.”

HB640 would take possession “of one ounce or less of marijuana or 5 grams or less of hashish” from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction punishable by “a minimum of $350 for a first offense and $500 for a second or subsequent offense.” Any New Hampshire resident possessing “more than one ounce of marijuana or more than 5 grams of hashish” would be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, rather than a felony.

The New Hampshire House voted overwhelmingly to approve HB640 on Mar. 8 by a 318-36 margin. Previously, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee gave the bill an “Ought to Pass” recommendation with a 14-2 vote. It will now move to the Senate for consideration.

“Currently, a criminal penalty accompanying a conviction for first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana can lead to a lifetime of hard consequences,” Rep. Cushing said in a Seacoast Online report. “These may include denial of student financial aid, housing, employment and professional licenses.”

LEGALITY

The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. Of course, the federal government lacks any lawful authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

Legalization of marijuana in New Hampshire would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.

FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, New Hampshire essentially sweeps away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

A GROWING MOVEMENT

New Hampshire could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and thwarting it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.

With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” policy analyst Michael Boldin said.

WHAT’S NEXT?

HB640 will move to the Senate for further consideration.