N.H. Senate rejects decriminalization compromise; first three dispensaries begin serving patients!
Last update: May 25, 2016
New Hampshire had a great opportunity in 2016 to join the rest of New England by decriminalizing marijuana possession. The effort got off to a strong start when HB 1631, sponsored by Rep. Adam Schroadter (R-Newmarket), passed the House by a voice vote on March 10. This sensible bill would have reduced the penalty for possessing up to one-half ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation. Unfortunately, it was killed by the Senate in a 14-10 vote. To see how your state senator voted, click here.
However, the House was not willing to take no for an answer. On April 26, 2016, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee amended a Senate-approved bill, SB 498, into a bill that would decriminalize possession of up to one-quarter ounce of marijuana for first offenses. The House passed this bill in a 289-58 vote on May 11, sending it back to the Senate for a final vote. This amendment was not supported by Gov. Maggie Hassan, and, as a result, the Senate did not pass it — instead, they voted to send the bill to a hostile conference committee. This committee, which was dominated by prohibitionists, removed House changes that would have decriminalized a quarter ounce of marijuana. The final version would instead reclassify the penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana from a class A misdemeanor to an unspecified misdemeanor. The Union Leader described this as a “sideways” step for marijuana policy reform. Gov. Maggie Hassan is expected to sign it into law.
For a detailed analysis of how a criminal record can have far reaching effects for New Hampshire residents, check our report, Marked for Life: Collateral Sanctions Associated with Marijuana Offenses in New Hampshire.
State finally issues first ID cards; three dispensaries begin serving patients
On July 23, 2013, Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill allowing seriously ill New Hampshire residents to use marijuana for medical purposes. Unfortunately, before doing so, she insisted on several changes. As a result, As a result, the rollout of the program was beset by delays. MPP’s Matt Simon described the situation — and the frustrations felt by patients — in “Confusion, Delays, and Continued Arrests,” a report issued on the two-year “anniversary” of the signing of HB 573.
In November 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services began allowing patients to pre-register for medical marijuana ID cards. Despite the fact that patients were still being arrested in the state, the AG’s office argued that patients should not be able to obtain ID cards (which would protect them from arrest) until the first dispensary was ready to open. A terminally ill lung cancer patient, Linda Horan, became the first patient to receive an ID card in December after she sued the state and won, and she was able to visit a dispensary in Maine to obtain cannabis legally. MPP was proud to have supported this lawsuit, and we are grateful to Linda, her attorney, Paul Twomey, and Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) for their efforts on behalf of all New Hampshire patients.
The first dispensary began serving patients on April 30, 2016, and the second and third dispensaries opened soon after the first. One additional dispensary has been approved by the state.
You can read more about the program and access application forms at the department’s website.
N.H. House makes history, votes to legalize and regulate marijuana
On January 15, 2014, the New Hampshire House of Representatives voted 170-162 to approve a bill that would legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana for use by adults in the “Live Free or Die” state. This was the first time any state legislative chamber has approved such a bill.
Unfortunately, Gov. Maggie Hassan said she would veto the bill if it reached her desk. “I just think it’s the wrong message to send to young people,” she explained. The bill failed to pass the House on a second vote after the governor’s veto threat.
While some politicians continue to oppose sensible reforms, public opinion continues to turn strongly against the prohibition of marijuana. In March 2016, new polling from the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that 62% of Granite Staters support legalizing marijuana, while only 30% are opposed. Despite this strong public support, the House killed two bills in 2016 that would have regulated marijuana for legal adult use.
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