Pot Prohibition’s Last New England Holdout Is Decriminalizing

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Along with the West Coast, the most liberal and tolerant place for marijuana in America has been New England.

Massachusetts and Maine both voted to legalize recreational cannabis for adults on Election Day—the same day as left-coast California and libertarian-friendly Nevada—and for several years, marijuana possession has no longer been a crime in Vermont, Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Only in New Hampshire, where the license plates all say “Live Free or Die,” is the possession of small amounts of marijuana a misdemeanor offense, with violators risking arrest, a court appearance and possible jail time—but those days, too, are ending.

Last week, after numerous failed attempts in earlier legislative sessions, state legislators finally approved a marijuana decriminalization bill—and overwhelmingly.

As New Hampshire Public Radio reported, if the bill survives a final vote and is signed into law, possession of up to 3/4 of an ounce of cannabis would be an infraction, punishable by fines of $100 up to $300—though four offenses would result in a misdemeanor, but without the risk of jail time.

This would put an end to a costly folly that has done no tangible good.

As the Marijuana Policy Project reported, 85 percent of the state’s 2,728 annual marijuana arrests are for possession only—an exercise that cost the state more than $6.5 million in 2010, and one that’s persisted despite more than 60 percent of voters supporting outright legalization.

That will have to wait—as will the celebration punishable only by citation. The bill still needs to be approved by the state House of Representatives, but all indications are that the lower house approval is a mere formality, as Republican Gov. Chris Sununu promised to sign the bill into law.

“I want to thank the legislature for passing common-sense marijuana reform,” he said Thursday, according to Patch.com. “I look forward to signing House Bill 640 into law.”

Such progress. But even so, New Hampshire is still lagging far behind its fellow members of Patriot nation on cannabis reform.

The state where Mitt Romney saw fit to summer—the state with an auto-racing track on the NASCAR circuit and taxes low enough to please zealots like Grover Norquist—is now surrounded on all sides by states where cannabis is on its way to total legalization.

In Vermont, the state legislature became the first body of lawmakers to pass a legalization bill, rather than foisting the decision off onto voters—although the state’s Republican governor has yet to say definitively if he’ll sign it, citing tired-out concerns about roadway and edible safety—and in Canada, President Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government has vowed to make marijuana retail outlets a reality by next summer.

Medical marijuana is legal in New Hampshire, though it is difficult to access and patients are not allowed to cultivate their own supplies at home, and efforts to legalize have so far been stymied.

But with the opiate crisis raging in New Hampshire and lawmakers recognizing marijuana’s role in addressing the epidemic of overdose deaths, the state is finally ready to join the rest of New England and move onto other, different, more pressing concerns. Like beer.

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