CONCORD, N.H. (May 24, 2017) – Recently, the New Hampshire Senate passed a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession. Passage into law would take another 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). The legislation would eliminate criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession by “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.”
The New Hampshire Senate approved an amended version of HB640 on May 11 by a 17-6 margin. The House previously approved the measure by a 318-36 margin. The House and Senate will need to reconcile the two versions before HB640 can go to the governor’s desk.
After the Senate amendment, HB640 would change possession “of 3/4 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 3/4 ounce of marijuana or more than 5 grams of hashish” would be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
HB640 is not the only marijuana-related bill to achieve success in the New Hampshire legislature this year. Rep. Eric Schleien (R-Hillsborough) sponsored House Bill 157 (HB157) to expand the state’s medical marijuana program by making chronic pain a qualifying condition for patients to receive medical marijuana. The House and Senate both approved HB157, and the bill is on Gov. Sununu’s desk at the present moment.
“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.”
Under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the feds maintain complete prohibition of cannabis. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional 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.
Decriminalization 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
Passage of HB640 would further ignore federal prohibition, and thwart it in practice in New Hampshire. 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 last November.
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,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.
The House must concur with the Senate’s amendment before HB640 can be placed on the governor’s desk. If the House does not concur, the bill will most likely move to a conference committee to reconcile the differences.