CONCORD, N.H. – Last week, the New Hampshire House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would allow individuals arrested for possession of small amounts of marijuana, or convicted of such charges, to have their record expunged. Passage into law would take another step toward nullifying federal marijuana prohibition in effect in New Hampshire.
A bipartisan coalition of 13 cosponsors introduced House Bill 1477 (HB1477) in January. Under the proposed law, any person who was arrested or convicted before Sept. 16, 2017, for knowingly or purposely obtaining, purchasing, transporting, or possessing 3/4 ounce of marijuana or less could petition the court to have the arrest and/or court records annulled.
On Sept. 16, 2017, a law decriminalizing simple marijuana possession went into effect. Passage of HB640 changed possession “of 3/4 ounce or less of marijuana or 5 grams or less of hashish” from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction.
HB1477 would take another step forward, allowing people arrested for or convicted of something no longer illegal to clear their records.
On Feb. 22, the House passed HB1477 314-24.
In the past, there has been some opposition to marijuana legalization bills because they generally leave those previously charged and convicted unprotected. The introduction of HB1477 demonstrates an important strategic point. Passing bills that take a step forward sets the stage, even if they aren’t perfect. Once the door is open, the way is cleared for additional steps. You can’t take the second step before you take the first.
Passage of HB1477 would not only help those with prior marijuana arrests and convictions on their record get a new start, it would also further undermine federal marijuana prohibition. As marijuana becomes more accepted and more states simply ignore the feds, the federal government is less able to enforce its unconstitutional laws.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Decriminalization, along with New Hampshire’s medical marijuana program, removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition remains in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While state law does not alter federal law, it takes a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing state prohibition, New Hampshire essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska, California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts have all legalized marijuana for recreational or medical use. With more than two-dozen states allowing cannabis for medical use as well, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
Decriminalization of marijuana and expansion of medical marijuana laws in New Hampshire demonstrates another important reality. Once a state puts laws in place legalizing marijuana, it tends to eventually expand. HB1477 is a perfect example of this tendency. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These bills represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
“The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
HB1477 now moves to the Senate for further consideraiton. At the time of this report, it had not been referred to a Senate Committee.