The prohibitionists in the New Hampshire Senate, led by gubernatorial candidate Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), succeeded yesterday in preventing any meaningful progress on decriminalization in 2016. The committee of conference on SB 498 removed House changes that would have decriminalized a quarter-ounce of marijuana. As was the case in the original Senate bill, the conference committee’s report would instead reclassify the penalty for possessing one ounce or less of marijuana from a class A misdemeanor to an unspecified misdemeanor.
Union Leader reporter Garry Rayno accurately described this as a “sideways” step for marijuana policy reform. Police and courts will continue to waste time on low-level marijuana possession cases, and people who are caught with marijuana will continue being dragged through the criminal justice system. The small change made by SB 498 may end up having a small positive effect on marijuana policy, or it may have no practical effect at all.
On the bright side, all 24 Senate seats and the governor’s office will be up for grabs in November. Five senators who opposed decriminalization have already announced that they are not running for re-election, and with polls now showing that Granite Staters support legalization by a more than two to one margin and that legalization is more popular than any New Hampshire politician, we know we will have many opportunities to improve our position heading into this year’s election and the 2017 session.
New England Political Director
Marijuana Policy Project