House Passes Marijuana Sentencing Reform Bill
CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE -- House members today defied expectations and passed a bill to reduce the penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, 193-141, overriding the recommendation of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, which voted HB 1623 "inexpedient to legislate" last month.
Sponsored by Reps. Jeffrey Fontas (D-Nashua), Andrew Edwards (D-Nashua) and Charles Weed (D-Keene), HB 1623 makes possession of up to a quarter ounce of marijuana a violation punishable by a maximum fine of $200.
The bill makes the punishment for marijuana offenses more proportional to the offense and protects offenders from harsh, often unintended, consequences that can stem from a conviction, said Fontas. These consequences can include the loss of student financial aid, he said, making it much more difficult for young people to recover from what often amounts to a stupid mistake.
"How can we expect young people to get back on the right path if we take away every opportunity to do so?" he said before the vote. "If we are so concerned about the message we are sending to young people, I can think of no worse message than that we do not want our young people going to college."
The decision would restore a measure of sanity to marijuana sentencing and reflects the sentiments of most Americans, said NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy's Matt Simon, who noted similar reforms were being considered in Vermont and Massachusetts.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
"Our representatives in the House did the right thing for New Hampshire - and especially for New Hampshire's young people," Simon said. "It's time for the Senate to finish the work we've started here and bring some sanity to our marijuana sentencing policies."
Eleven states -- including Mississippi, Nebraska and Ohio -- have laws similar to what HB 1623 proposes. According to government data, marijuana use rates for teens and adults are in these "decriminalized" states are statistically equal to rates in states that jail individuals convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana.