Poll: NH Voters Support Easing Marijuana Penalties

NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy

CONCORD, NEW HAMPSHIRE — A clear majority of New Hampshire voters favor legislation to reduce the penalties for the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, according to a recent poll. The poll of 625 registered voters was conducted by telephone April 7 to 8 by Mason-Dixon Research for the Marijuana Policy Project and NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.

By a resounding 53-34 percent margin, New Hampshire voters support "a change in the law to provide for a $100 fine without jail time for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana for personal use."

Current New Hampshire law is one of the harshest in the nation, carrying the potential for a year in jail and a $2,000 fine for small quantities of marijuana. By contrast, driving under the influence of alcohol in New Hampshire does not carry the possibility of jail or prison time for the first offense.

A bill to reduce penalties for possessing one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana passed the New Hampshire House but faces uncertainty in the Senate, based partially on the opposition of Gov. John Lynch.

Eleven states – including neighboring Maine and New York, and conservative bastions Nebraska and Mississippi – have already removed jail or prison time as a penalty for possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. A bill to do so in Vermont has passed the state Senate and is before the state House.

Supporters of the New Hampshire reform effort cite the poll as evidence that politicians, including Gov. Lynch, may be misreading public opinion on the issue. They hope the poll will encourage the governor and state senators to take a serious look at the issue when the bill's hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee takes place April 22.

"Voters are saying they've had enough with marijuana penalties that ruin the lives of young people and clog the courts," said Matt Simon of NH Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy. "This isn't about legalization. It's about making the punishment fit the offense and focusing resources on more serious matters."

The poll shows that support for reducing penalties cuts across the state's demographics. Democrats and Independents strongly favored eliminating jail time for possessing small amounts of marijuana, while Republicans were evenly split (within the margin of error). Women favor reduced penalties by a whopping 28 percent margin (58-30 percent) while men support it by a smaller but significant 10 percent margin.

"Critics of HB 1623 may believe they are speaking for a majority of New Hampshire voters," said Simon. "However, this poll shows that most voters would support not only HB 1623, but a higher threshold amount of one ounce and a smaller fine of only $100."

The complete poll, including results showing overwhelming support for allowing the medical use of marijuana is online here: http://nhcommonsense.org/poll. The link also contains a chart showing New Hampshire penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana compared to other states.

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