Law Enforcement Against Prohibition weighs in on New Hampshire marijuana decriminalization

Last modified: 4/8/2015 12:36:31 AM
As the Senate takes up the latest attempt to decriminalize marijuana in New Hampshire, proponents brought in a new ally to lend a voice to their cause: the head of a national coalition of law enforcement officials advocating for drug policy reform.

“Decriminalizing marijuana possession by passing HB 618 is a necessary step in the right direction,” Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, wrote in a recent letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The less time that we as law enforcement spend arresting and prosecuting marijuana users, the more time we can spend keeping our streets safe from violent crime. LEAP strongly supports decriminalizing marijuana to free up limited police resources to deal with more serious crimes.”

Franklin, who spent more than 30 years working with the Baltimore Police Department and the Maryland State Police before joining LEAP, spoke alongside a group of New Hampshire-based decriminalization advocates at a press conference ahead of a Senate hearing on the decriminalization bill yesterday morning.

When he talks about marijuana policy, he tries to take a pragmatic approach: The money and hours currently invested in cracking down on marijuana possession, Franklin said, are simply not a smart investment when they could instead be directed to more violent crimes.

“I get the emotional position here,” Franklin said. “But when I started having conversations about the data, about the numbers, about the amount of people we were arresting and what happens from a simple arrest when it comes to the future of those people we arrest for simple drug possession, the punishment does not fit the crime.”

In March, the House overwhelmingly – 297-67 – approved a modified version of a decriminalization bill that had been introduced earlier this year. While the original version of the bill proposed reducing penalties to a $100 fine upon first-time offenders who are caught with up to 1 ounce of marijuana, the amended version changes the threshold to those who have up to half an ounce.

Now, the bill is up for review in the Senate. While the House has introduced at least nine decriminalization measures in the last decade, none of those policies has ever managed to pass the opposite chamber.

And even if the policy does earn the support of state senators this time around, it is likely to run into opposition from Gov. Maggie Hassan, who has said she opposes this specific decriminalization policy. Her spokesman, William Hinkle, said in a statement that the governor “does believe that there are other avenues that can and should be looked at to encourage alternative sentencing options that will focus on treatment first” and “does not believe a person should be jailed for a first-time marijuana possession offense.”

Franklin, for his part, said he’s surprised that the state wasn’t ahead of the curve on decriminalization.

“I’m telling you, I thought New Hampshire would be one of the states leading this issue,” the law enforcement veteran said yesterday, adding with a laugh: “I’m still trying to figure out what that quote on your license plate means.”

“As long as you are not preying upon other people, as long as you are not hurting or victimizing other people, enjoy your life, enjoy your freedoms,” Franklin continued. “That’s what I thought New Hampshire was about.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)

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