A bill that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana could clear a major hurdle when it goes before the state Senate this week.
The Senate has historically opposed decriminalization, but after getting the support of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, this latest proposal appears likely to pass when it comes up for a vote Thursday.
New Hampshire is the only New England state where the possession of small amounts of the drug remains a criminal offense.
Speaking to NHPR’s Morning Edition, the bill’s prime sponsor State Representative Renny Cushing says New Hampshire needs to get in step with the rest of the country on this issue.
“There’s a lot of collateral damage that’s done by arresting people for marijuana,” said the Hampton Democrat. “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.”
The bill has been amended in the Senate and, if it clears the full Senate Thursday, would need to go back to the House to concur with the changes. Under the revised bill, those in possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana would face a civil violation and be subject to a fine of $100 for a first offense.
Governor Chris Sununu hasn’t taken a position on the bill, but has said he supports decriminalization.
Cushing believes resistance to decriminalization has been rooted in a fear of change, but he says, "the world around us is changing."
“On our borders, Maine and Massachusetts have voted to legalize have voted to legalize it for adult recreational use. The Vermont House and Senate have both passed legalization bills. Canada on our northern border is set to legalize it. A fifth of the country now lives in states where it’s legal for adults to use recreational marijuana. I think New Hampshire needs to get in step with the rest of the country.”
Cushing says be believes the state will eventually treat marijuana the way it treats alcohol, by regulating it for adult recreational use and taxing it.
“I myself personally would like to see the war on weed come to an end,” he said. “I’d like to see us divert our resources and focus on for instance providing beds for opioid addicts and working on prevention and treating the use of marijuana as a public health and not a criminal justice matter.”
"Our motto is 'Live Free or Die.' We ought to let people in the privacy of their own homes do what they want," he added.