Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill yesterday that decriminalizes possession of three quarters of an ounce of marijuana or less. Instead of jail time, a person caught with a small amount of pot will now face up to 100 dollars in fines for a first offense.
The Governor also signed a separate bill establishing a commission to study the possibility of marijuana legalization in the state. The commission includes representatives from state agencies, lawmakers, and the public. The nonprofit New Futures, which focuses on drug addiction prevention, will also have a voice on the commission.
The Vice President of Advocacy for New Futures, Kate Frey, spoke with NHPR’s Peter Biello about the future of marijuana law in New Hampshire.
We’ve been expecting for some time now that the Governor would sign this decriminalization bill. What’s your stance on this bill, do you support it?
New Futures did not take a position on House Bill 640. In the past, we have opposed the decriminalization of marijuana bills like that. This past year, what we did was really work with stakeholders on what we felt were really important principles to be in the legislation.
Our focus had to do with strong prevention and public health measures. And if those were included in the bill, then we would not oppose the legislation, and that’s exactly what happened this year.
We were fortunate that stakeholders who were working on the legislation included things that included strong public health and prevention principles, such as a youth risk assessment for a child under 18 who is arrested with marijuana, and also making sure that the fines go to prevention programs.
So because those principles were in the legislation, we did not oppose it.
Right, the bill aims to keep teens from using pot, in response to some folks like yourself who say decriminalization encourages teen use.
Right, exactly. When you use terms like decriminalization, or when marijuana becomes more accessible like it has over the years, the perception of the risks of harm really decreases and the youth use increases.
Do you object to the use of the term “decriminalization”?
I think we prefer the term “marijuana policy reform,” because there’s a perception that it means it’s okay to use.
There is some disagreement over whether or not decriminalization or marijuana policy reform, whatever you want to call it, actually does encourage the use of pot. There have been some studies that say it has no effect at all. You dispute those studies?
I disagree with that, yeah. There have been some strong studies out of things like Monitoring the Future that shows a direct correlation between the perception of harm decreasing and the use access increasing.
Another bill signed establishes the study commission of which you are a part. What kind of information will you be looking for as part of this commission?
My understanding is, it will look closely at things like experiences in other states, things like whether or not there really is a substantial amount of revenue that comes from legalization. We haven’t really seen that in other states. It will also look at public health aspects.
Critics have pointed out that most members of this commission are known opponents of legalization, and because of that the commission’s work may be biased. What’s your response to that criticism?
We do not take a position on that study commission. I can’t really speak to the membership—I haven’t looked at it very closely.
My experience with study commissions though is that, even if there are certain organizations not on the commission, they can certainly come in and testify, and that information will be relayed to the study committee.