CONCORD, N.H. (Jun. 2, 2017) – Yesterday, the New Hampshire House gave final approval to a bill to decriminalize marijuana possession in the state. If signed by the governor, this measure would further nullify the federal prohibition on cannabis in practice in New Hampshire.
Along with 11 bipartisan co-sponsors, Rep. Robert Cushing (D-Hampton) introduced House Bill 640 (HB640). The legislation would eliminate criminal penalties for simple marijuana possession by “allowing offenders to pay fines by mail will result in less time and resources spent on such cases, allowing police and courts to spend more time and resources dealing with serious crimes.”
The New Hampshire Senate approved an amended version of HB640 on May 11 by a 17-6 margin. Previously, the New Hampshire House approved HB640 by a 318-36 margin. The House concurred with the Senate amendments on Jun. 1. HB640 will now be placed on Gov. Sununu’s desk for his consideration.
The finalized version of HB640 would change possession “of 3/4 ounce or less of marijuana or 5 grams or less of hashish” from a criminal misdemeanor to a civil infraction punishable by “a minimum of $350 for a first offense and $500 for a second or subsequent offense.” Any New Hampshire resident possessing “more than 3/4 ounce of marijuana or more than 5 grams of hashish” would be charged with a criminal misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
HB640 is not the only marijuana-related bill to achieve success in the New Hampshire legislature this year. House Bill 157 (HB157) would expand the state’s medical marijuana program by making chronic pain a qualifying condition for patients to receive medical marijuana, and House Bill 160 (HB160) would add post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. Both bills were approved by the legislature and are on Gov. Sununu’s desk awaiting approval.
“Currently, a criminal penalty accompanying a conviction for first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana can lead to a lifetime of hard consequences,” Rep. Cushing said in a Seacoast Online report. “These may include denial of student financial aid, housing, employment and professional licenses.”
The federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970 prohibits all of this behavior. 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.
Decriminalization of marijuana in New Hampshire would remove a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana, but federal prohibition will remain on the books.
FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By mostly ending state prohibition, New Hampshire essentially sweeps away most 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
With legal medical marijuana, New Hampshire is already among a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition, and nullifying it in practice. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have already legalized recreational cannabis with California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts set to join them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization were passed in those states earlier this month.
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 any more.
“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.
Gov. Sununu will have five days from the date HB640 is transmitted to his office to sign or veto the bill. If he fails to act, it will go into law without his signature. If you live in New Hampshire, call Gov. Sununu and urge him to sign HB640 to decriminalize simple marijuana possession as well as HB157 and HB160 to expand the state’s medical marijuana laws. He can be reached at (603) 271-2121.