CONCORD, New Hampshire. (May 13, 2016) – A New Hampshire bill to decriminalize marijuana for adults, changing criminal penalties into civil infractions, passed in the state House on Wednesday. The proposal would not only decriminalize marijuana in the Life Free or Die State, it would also take a big step toward nullifying federal cannabis prohibition in practice in New Hampshire.
Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) along with three co-sponsors introduced Senate Bill 498 (SB498) on Jan. 6, The legislation would change the New Hampshire state criminal code to read as follows:
New Hampshire has maintained criminal penalties against marijuana possession for decades, and yet marijuana remains by far the most commonly used illicit substance in New Hampshire, with more than 11 percent of state residents reporting having used it in the past month, according to survey data from 2014 published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The same survey reported that only 3.69 percent of residents had used an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past month…
Reducing the penalty for possessing 1/4 ounce or less of marijuana to a violation for first offenses and allowing offenders to pay fines by mail will result in less time and resources being spent on such cases, allowing police and courts to spend more time and resources dealing with serious crimes…
A criminal penalty accompanying a conviction for possession of one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana can lead to a lifetime of harsh consequences. These may include denial of student financial aid, housing, employment, and professional licenses. Reducing this penalty to a violation for first offenses will significantly reduce the number of New Hampshire residents who receive criminal records for possessing one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana.
In March, the Senate approved SB498 by a voice vote. On May 11, the House approved an amended version of the bill by a 289-58 vote. The legislation will now go back to the Senate for concurrence with the amendments. They were technical in nature, and did not impact the effect of the bill.
Under the provisions of SB498, individuals who possess up to a 1/4th ounce of marijuana and up to one gram of hashish would be subject to a civil infraction punishable by a $300 fine. Subsequent offenses may be charged as misdemeanor crimes, but could be reduced to civil infractions as well. Juvenile offenders could be charged with up to 35 hours of community service if they possess small amounts of marijuana and hashish. The courts would have the discretion to suspend driving privileges for offenders as well.
Measures such as SB498 are completely Constitutional, and there is little if anything the feds can do to stop them in practice.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Passage of SB498 would remove one layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition would remain 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 the New Hampshire bill would not alter federal law, it would take 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 erasing the state laws, the New Hampshire legislature would essentially sweep away 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.
If the state legislature passes SB498, New Hampshire would join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. 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.
SB498 must now be re-approved by the Senate before it can be placed on Gov. Maggie Hassan’s desk and potentially be signed into law.