April 14 - Decriminalizing Pot in NH

This article appeared in the E-Ticker News April 14, 2014

NH House Happenings

By Rep. John Cloutier

Decriminalizing Pot In NH

Criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana in the Granite State could
be drastically reduced, if a recent decision by New Hampshire
ʼs House of Representatives becomes law.

On March 12, by a 215-92 roll call vote, the House adopted an amended version of House Bill 1625, which would effectively, “decriminalize” pot possession in our state. In other words, individuals convicted of having one ounce or less of marijuana, including adulterants or dilutants, would be guilty only of a violation. A lesser degree of crime than the present misdemeanor for such possession, resulting in a fine not to exceed $100 and forfeiture of the marijuana for persons age 18 and over under the billʼs provisions. For persons under the age of 18, conviction for pot possession would result not only in forfeiture, but notification of the offenderʼs parents or guardians. Additionally, offenders would both have to complete an approved alcohol and substance abuse education program at their expense, and participate in community service within one year of conviction or face an additional $750 fine.

Furthermore, House Bill 1625 would allow courts to consider revoking or denying the driversʼ licenses of anyone convicted of possessing one ounce or less of marijuana who is not yet age 21 on the date they were cited for its possession. Other provisions of the amended bill, which was recommended by a majority of the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee, include two major changes. First, persons age 18 and older charged with small amounts of pot possession could enter pleas on such charges by mail with the appropriate courts. Second, our state government would be prohibited from recording the names of any individuals actually convicted of this pot possession on any database of criminal offenders. 

House Bill 1625, whose prime sponsor is Newmarket Rep. Adam Schroadter, now is under consideration by the New Hampshire Senate, where its fate is uncertain, according to  many political pundits. But in any case, Gov. Maggie Hassan has indicated that she would veto this marijuana decriminalization legislation, if it reaches her desk.

Adoption of House Bill 1625 followed preliminary approval of House Bill 492 on Jan. 15, which would have legalized, regulated, and taxed marijuana in the Granite State, approval which I had written about in my Jan. 20 column. However, on March 26, the House reversed its earlier approval of the latter bill, and this time rejected potʼs legalization on a 192-140 roll call vote, which was a much larger margin than the eight-vote approval margin on Jan. 15. Final rejection of House Bill 492 followed a second majority recommendation, this one by the House Ways & Means Committee, to make the measure Inexpedient to Legislate.

For readersʼ information, I did vote for marijuanaʼs decriminalization by voting “Yes” on House Bill 1625 as amended. Overall, I believe the bill is a reasonable measure which sends the message to adults and especially juveniles that pot possession is not a good idea, but they shouldnʼt be drastically punished for simple possession. Nevertheless, I again voted against marijuanaʼs legalization by voting against House Bill 492. As indicated in my Jan. 20 column, I believe New Hampshire should proceed slowly on such legalization. Among other reasons, we should carefully watch what happens in Colorado and Washington, two states that have legalized pot, and learn from their experiences. Frankly, I was tempted by the billʼs potential of garnering badly-needed revenue for our state. But the billʼs provision allowing people to grow up to six marijuana plants at their homes, rather than at regulated and taxed marijuana stores, led me to ultimately conclude that this provision could actually reduce the potential tax revenue. In any case, Iʼm not yet sure whether the potential revenue is worth the possible problems legalized pot could bring to our state.

Other noteworthy legislation adopted by the House in the first half of the 2014 Session included an amended version of House Bill 1572. The bill, which passed on March 12 by a 268-59 roll call vote, would establish a permanent subcommittee on Alzheimer'sʼ Disease to determine policies and actions to help meet the needs of our stateʼs citiizens, families, and caregivers living with Alzheimer's. Furthermore, the amended bill would direct the New Hampshire Health & Human Services Dept. to work in collaboration with the State Dept. of Safety, Police Standards & Training Council, as well as New Hampshire Chapter of the Alzheimer'sʼ Assoc., among other entities, on an educational program for this disease which hopefully would be implemented after Jan. 1, 2015, and help all law enforcement officers and the gen- eral public better understand and cope with Alzheimer's. 

I voted for House Bill 1572 as amended. I did so because I believe our state government needs to do more in dealing with Alzheimerʼs and other related illnesses, which are going to affect more and more of our fellow citizens over the next few years, especially if a cure isnʼt found soon.

Email: jocloutier@comcast.net