N.H. senate majority leader confident marijuana decriminalization will pass this year

  • Marijuana buds in glass jars on wooden background

Monitor staff
Published: 5/2/2017 1:51:52 PM

Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, a Wolfeboro Republican, said marijuana decriminalization will likely pass the Senate this year, a chamber where it has failed many times before.

The amended legislation, which removes criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, got one step closer to becoming a reality on Tuesday after getting passed by a 3-2 vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If passed by both the House and Senate, the bill will be on its way to Gov. Chris Sununu’s desk. 

Cannabis advocates also notched a win Tuesday for medical marijuana, as the Senate Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved a bill that would add chronic pain, severe pain that hasn’t responded to other medication or surgery, and post-traumatic stress disorder as qualifying medical conditions for therapeutic cannabis.

Both bills are now headed to the full Senate.

The decriminalization bill would change the penalty for possessing up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana to a civil violation with a $100 fine for a first or second offense and a $300 fine for a third offense if it happened within three years of the first.

It’s less harsh than the law currently on the books, where someone possessing a small amount of marijuana can be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.

The bill was introduced in committee by Bradley, who said he is confident decriminalization will soon pass the full Senate.

“I think that the public is more accepting of the fact that if you make a mistake the first time or second time, especially for somebody that’s a student or young person, it shouldn’t affect the rest of your life,” Bradley said. “I think decriminalization and recreational legalization are two different things.”

Marijuana decriminalization has a long history of passing New Hampshire’s House of Representatives, only to fail in the Senate.

Democratic state Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton, the bill’s prime sponsor, said that House members have been trying to get similar legislation passed for the past four decades.

“One of the sponsors of the bill, Chuck Grassie, was one of the sponsors 40 years ago,” he said. “For two generations we’ve been talking about decriminalization of marijuana. I think today’s the day we can see it’s coming soon.”

Cushing said he believes the public and politicians realized “the absolute failure” of “this war on weed” since the first decriminalization bill was introduced.

“We’re spending $35,000 a year to incarcerate people for the possession of marijuana at a time when we don’t have enough beds to treat opioid addicts,” Cushing said. “It’s just trying to make our priorities sensible.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, enilsen@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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