The “Live Free or Die” state just became the last and final one in New England to eliminate the possibility of jail time for possession of small amounts of weed.
Republican Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill to remove criminal penalties for possessing up to three-quarters of an ounce of cannabis or up to five grams of hash.
But, in the words of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper spoken in 2012, don’t “break out the Cheetos or goldfish” just yet.
Decriminalization doesn’t take effect for 60 days, so take out your calendars and start counting.
The new law makes possessing weed a violation-level offense with a fine of up to $300 for adults. Minors caught with either would be subject to a delinquency petition. Someone can be charged with a misdemeanor, however, if they are found with marijuana for a fourth time within a three-year period.
“The governor deserves credit for his steadfast support of this commonsense reform,” Matt Simon, political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said on NH Public Radio. “Unlike his predecessors, who opposed similar proposals, Governor Sununu appears to understand that ‘Live Free or Die’ is more than just a motto on a license plate.”
The bill, HB 640, also says police cannot arrest someone for a cannabis violation.
Any money collected from fines under the law will go into a fund aimed at alcohol and drug abuse prevention and treatment.
Supporters argue that the new legislation will ensure that young people’s lives are not ruined by getting caught with weed.
Opponents say decriminalization sends the wrong message as the state battles a serious opioid crisis, with more people dying from fentanyl overdoses than heroin, according to recent data from the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
State Representative Robert “Renny” Cushing, the bill’s prime sponsor, believes it is a step in the right direction for New Hampshire.
“There’s a lot of collateral damage that’s done by arresting people for marijuana,” Cushing said. “We spend $35,000 a year to keep someone in jail, prison in this state for marijuana possession at a time when we don’t have enough money for beds for opioid addicts.”