House Subcommittee Passes Marijuana Reform Bill

NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — The effort to reduce marijuana penalties in New Hampshire took a step forward in the legislature today, as a subcommittee of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved HB 1623 in a 3-1 vote.

Sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua), Andrew Edwards (D-Nashua) and Charles Weed (D-Keene), HB 1623 would reduce the penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana from a class A misdemeanor to a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $200.

"Today's vote reflects a growing consensus among legislators that New Hampshire's penalties for simple marijuana possession are unnecessarily harsh," explained Matt Simon, executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. "These representatives have taken an honest look at the facts, and they've agreed to support punishments which come closer to fitting the offense."

After over an hour of discussion, which included supporters and opponents of the bill, legislators chose to amend the amount covered by the legislation from 1.25 ounces to .25 ounces. The subcommittee also corrected the drafting error that would have removed penalties for selling marijuana in small amounts. This error had been identified at the bill's Jan. 22 hearing by Karin Eckel of the Attorney General's office. It has been clear throughout the process that the sponsors did not intend to remove penalties for selling marijuana.

Fontas, who serves on the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, was accepting of the result.

"Compromise is the instrument of politics," he said following the subcommittee work session. "Ultimately the process worked, and the conversation continues."

Rep. John Tholl (R-Whitefield), a police chief in the town of Dalton, chaired the subcommittee and voted in favor. Reps. David Welch (R-Kingston) and Ellen Neilsen (D-Claremont) also voted in favor, with Rep. Delmar Burridge (D-Keene) opposed.

In voicing his vote of opposition, Burridge said "I'm Nancy Reagan: 'Just Say No.'"

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