Legislators, Law Enforcement, Advocates Hail Bill to Reduce Penalties for Small Marijuana Offenses
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — A bill to reduce marijuana penalties drew wide support in the state legislature today. Sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua), Andrew Edwards (D-Nashua), and Charles Weed (D-Keene), HB 1623 would reduce the penalty for possessing less than 1.25 ounces of marijuana from a class A misdemeanor to a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $200.
Bradley Jardis, an active duty New Hampshire police officer, told members of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee he believed the bill offered a more sensible way of handling small marijuana offenses.
"I have been kicked, I have been punched, I have been choked, I have been dropped to the ground, I've had two people jump on top of me punching me while I was on duty -- by people who had been drinking alcohol," he said. "I have never been to a domestic violence call or a fight call where someone smokes marijuana."
The bill was opposed only by the state attorney general's office and the Association of New Hampshire Chiefs of Police. After Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency, president of the association, testified against the bill, committee member Rep. Timothy Robertson (D-Keene) asked if he would be in favor of reinstating alcohol Prohibition. Morency paused and said it would be something he'd consider.
"Alcohol Prohibition is widely considered an enormous disaster that increased crime and violence," Matt Simon of NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy said after the hearing. "We all want safer communities, but Chief Morency's ideas for how to achieve that are as misguided regarding alcohol as they are regarding marijuana."
Jardis was not the only member of the law enforcement and criminal justice community to speak in support of the bill. Richard Van Wickler, superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections, told the committee decriminalization has worked in other places.
"Jurisdictions globally and nationally that have passed laws such as the one that's before you today have had success with it," he said. "It has served the purpose of justice; it has moved closer to crime policies based on fact rather than fiction."
After hearing testimony, the committee decided to form a four-member subcommittee to study the bill more closely and provide a recommendation before the bill goes before the full committee for a vote.