Despite overwhelming approval in the House — and a poll released last week that found 63% of New Hampshire voters support such legislation — the Senate tabled HB 618 on Thursday evening
CONCORD — The New Hampshire Senate blocked a widely supported bill Thursday evening that would have removed criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
After Senators voted 9-15 to overturn the Judiciary Committee’s recommendation that the bill be killed, Sens. Jeb Bradley (R-Wolfeboro) and David Pierce (D-Etna) proposed a compromise floor amendment to HB 618. Four senators argued strongly against the bill and the amendment: David Boutin (R-Hooksett), Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), Gary Daniels (R-Milford), and Jeannie Forrester (R-Meredith). Senators were unable to agree on the language and the bill was tabled.
HB 618, which the House approved 297-67 in March, would have made possession of up to one-half ounce of marijuana a civil violation punishable by a fine of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 for a third or subsequent offense. Under current state law, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $2,000.
“The Senate’s failure to adopt this moderate, commonsense legislation is truly stunning,” said Matt Simon, Goffstown-based New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “There is also exceptionally strong public support. Voters are clearly tired of New Hampshire being the only state left in New England that criminalizes people for simple marijuana possession.
“The senators who led the effort to block this bill should explain why they think citizens should be branded as criminals for possessing a substance that is less harmful than alcohol.”
Three out of five adults in New Hampshire (63%) support removing criminal penalties for marijuana possession, according to a WMUR Granite State Poll released last week. Only 27% said they were opposed.
New Hampshire is the only state in New England that treats simple marijuana possession as a criminal offense with the potential for jail time. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have removed the threat of jail for simple marijuana possession. The Illinois General Assembly approved a similar measure last month, which is now awaiting action from the governor.