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New Hampshire Considers Shifting To Civil Penalties For Minor Marijuana Possession

The New Hampshire legislature is considering a measure which would "decriminalize" possession of small amounts of marijuana by creating a civil penalty instead.

The Boston Globe reported on Feb. 24, 2008 ("NH Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana") that "Two first-term state representatives from Nashua have filed legislation to decriminalize the possession of up to 0.25 ounce of marijuana, hoping that New Hampshire might join 12 other states that have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot. The bill, which is expected to be voted on by the House next month, would make the possession of such quantities a civil violation that would carry a $200 fine instead of a criminal misdemeanor that could result in up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500. 'I think the penalty should be reduced. Young people are experimenting, and if they make a bad choice, their conviction shouldn't come back to haunt them later in life,' said Representative Andrew Edwards, a 21-year-old Nashua Democrat who cosponsored the bill. 'The culture is changing, and I think the law should reflect those changes.'"

According to the Globe, "Representative Jeffrey Fontas, another 21-year-old Democrat from Nashua, who cosponsored the legislation, said he was not surprised the full House committee did not approve the bill. 'But we did have an open discussion of the issue. Mistakes early in life, like a possession charge, can be devastating to the futures of our young people,' said Fontas, adding that a single drug arrest can lead to the loss of a college scholarship, the ability to serve in the military, subsidized housing, and federal welfare like food stamps. Conley said it is rare for first-time offenders to get jail time for possession of small amounts of marijuana. 'As far as someone getting arrested and their lives being ruined, I don't think that that's the case,' he said. 'Employers are more forgiving in this day and age, and police prosecutors frequently reduce marijuana cases down to violations. The threat of criminal prosecution gives them leverage to encourage youths to attend a drug rehabilitation program.' Hudson Police Chief Richard E. Gendron said he is also opposed to the bill. 'It's a slippery slope that won't lead us anywhere.'"

The Globe noted that "On Feb. 14, when a working group of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted, 4 to 1, in favor of the lighter penalty, it was the first time in more than 20 years that a group of Granite State legislators had recommended the decriminalization of marijuana. On Feb. 19, however, the full committee voted, 13 to 5, to recommend that the House not pass the law. The bill is scheduled to go before the full House March 5."

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Updated: Thursday, July 09, 2009   ~   Accessed: 4414 times
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