New Hampshire lawmakers to consider decriminalizing marijuana

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 11, 2015 11:28 AM

By Ted Siefer

(Reuters) - Lawmakers in New Hampshire are expected to vote Wednesday on a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana and treat it like a traffic violation, in line with laws in the other New England states.

The bill, which the state’s House of Representatives is expected to pass, would eliminate criminal penalties for possessing up to a half ounce (14 grams) of marijuana, instead making it a civil violation punishable by a $100 fine.

It is unclear if the bill would be signed by Governor Maggie Hassan, a Democrat who approved the state law allowing medical marijuana but has said she would veto a decriminalization bill.

The measure is one of three marijuana-related bills House lawmakers are expected to consider on Wednesday. Another would set up a committee to study the legal sale and taxation of marijuana, and the other would allow people eligible for medical marijuana to grow their own plants or have a caretaker do so.

The proposed legislation comes as a growing number of U.S. states have relaxed marijuana laws, with Washington and Colorado voters have approving the legal sale of the drug. The drug became legal in Washington, D.C., last month though Republicans in the U.S. Congress blocked any measures to allow its sale, noting that it remains illegal under federal law.

Several marijuana reform bills have been passed by House lawmakers in New Hampshire in recent years, but have either failed to clear the Senate or been vetoed by the governor.

Supporters of the bills have argued that current criminal penalties for marijuana possession are particularly out of place in New Hampshire, whose state motto is "Live free or die."

The sponsor of the decriminalization bill, Representative Adam Schroadter, a Republican from Newmarket, pointed to a recent poll that showed nearly 60 percent of New Hampshire residents support the legalization of marijuana.

"New Hampshire is a grassroots state," he said. "People here are very politically aware. I think people just see (decriminalization) as common sense."

(Reporting by Ted Siefer, in Lowell, Mass.; Editing by Scott Malone and Doina Chiacu)