Legislative Chambers Move Measures To Decriminalize Marijuana In Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New JerseyMarch 22, 2013
Legislative chambers in four states — Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and New Jersey — have passed measures to reclassify minor marijuana offenses as non-criminal violations, punishable by a fine only — no arrest, no jail, and no criminal record.
In Hawaii, Senate lawmakers this month unanimously passed Senate Bill 472, which reclassifies marijuana possession offenses from a criminal misdemeanor (punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine) to an infraction. On Thursday, March 14, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted in favor of a revised version of this proposal (SB 472, HD1). This revised version caps fine-only penalties at no more than $100 for violations by those age 18 or older involving 20 grams or less of cannabis. Senate Bill 472 now before the House Finance Committee, where it has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. If passed by the House Finance Committee, the measure would still need to be voted by the full House and then it would return to the Senate before going to the Governor’s desk. You can read NORML’s testimony in support of this measure here. Hawaii voters who wish to learn more about this effort can visit NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here or visit the ACLU of Hawaii here.
Maryland lawmakers this week passed Senate Bill 297 by a vote of 30 to 16. The bill now goes before House lawmakers for further consideration. This is the first time in recent memory that a chamber of the Maryland legislature has voted to significantly reduce penalties for the non-medical use of cannabis. Presently, the possession of ten grams of cannabis or less is classified as a criminal misdemeanor, publishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine. Senate Bill 297 makes minor marijuana offenses a fine-only, non-criminal infraction, punishable by a maximum fine of $100. Members of the House Judiciary Committee will hear SB 297 on Thursday, March 28, at 1pm. NORML will be testifying at this hearing. Maryland residents are urged to get involved in supporting SB 297 by clicking here.
Yesterday, New Hampshire House members voted 214 to 115 in favor of amended legislation, House Bill 621, that decriminalizes minor marijuana possession offenses. Under present law, the possession of any amount of cannabis is classified as a criminal misdemeanor publishable by up to one-year in jail and a $2,000 fine. This proposal seeks to make minor marijuana offenses (up to one-quarter of one ounce) a fine-only, non-criminal infraction. The vote marks the fourth time in five years that House lawmakers have approved decriminalizing cannabis. More than 50 additional House lawmakers approved the measure this year as opposed to last year. Nevertheless, this measure is anticipated to face resistance in the Senate as well as from newly elected Gov. Maggie Hassan. If you reside in New Hampshire, you can take action in support of HB 621 here.
Assembly Bill 1465, which reduces penalties for the adult possession of up to 15 grams or less of marijuana to a fine-only, non-criminal violation was approved last year by the New Jersey Assembly and awaits action by the Senate. Separate Senate Legislation, Senate Bill 1977, to decriminalize up to 50 grams of marijuana also remains pending. Under present state law, the possessing of up to 50 grams marijuana is punishable by up to 6 months incarceration, a $1,000 fine, and a criminal record. According to survey data compiled in 2011 by Rutgers University, a majority of New Jersey voters support reforming the state’s criminal marijuana laws. Pollsters found that 6 out of 10 voters favored removing criminal penalties for first-time marijuana possession offenders and replacing them with the imposition of a civil fine. Just over half thought there should be no penalties at all. More information about these measures is available here.
To date, fifteen states have reduced marijuana possession to a fine-only offense. In nine of these states — California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Rhode Island (beginning April 1, 2013) — the law defines the private, non-medical possession of marijuana by adults as a civil, non-criminal offense. Five additional states — Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, North Carolina, and Ohio — treat marijuana possession offenses as a fine-only misdemeanor offense. Alaska imposes no criminal or civil penalty for the private possession of small amounts of marijuana, while Colorado and Washington recently imposed separate legislation legalizing the private possession of marijuana.
Several additional states, including Missouri and Vermont, are considering similar decriminalization measures. Nearly a dozen states are also considering legislation to legalize the adult consumption of marijuana and regulate its retail production and sale. A summary of state-by-state pending marijuana law reform measures is available from NORML’s ‘Take Action Center’ here.
Polling data released this week by the University of New Hampshire found that a majority of adults in New Hampshire support selling marijuana at state liquor stores with regulations similar to how the state handles alcohol.
The survey, conducted from January 30th to February 5th, asked 581 New Hampshire adults “if small amounts of marijuana were legalized for personal use in New Hampshire, would you approve or disapprove of marijuana being sold at state liquor stores and taxed at levels similar to alcohol or tobacco?” 56% of respondents said they approved of the concept, 37% said they opposed, and 5% were unsure.
Respondents were also asked about their support for medical marijuana. 79% said they supported allowing doctors in New Hampshire to prescribe small amounts of marijuana for patients suffering from serious illnesses, only 14% were opposed, and 5% were neutral.
If you live in New Hampshire, you can use NORML’s Take Action Center to easily contact your state officials and urge them to support these two important legislative measures. Click here for the marijuana legalization alert and here for the medical marijuana measure.
There are dozens of other marijuana law reform measures pending in numerous states. Click here to find out if your state is one.
A group of five bipartisan lawmakers have introduced legislation to make New Hampshire the third state to legalize and regulate the adult use of marijuana.
House Bill 492 legalizes the possession of up to an ounce or less of marijuana and the private cultivation of a limited number of marijuana plants for adults 21 years of age and older. HB 492 would also allow for licensed commercial cultivation and sale of marijuana. Full text of this measure can be read here.
Polling conducted in January of 2013 by Public Policy Polling reported that 53% of New Hampshire voters support changing state law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, only 37% were opposed.
Including New Hampshire, there is now a total of six states considering legislation to fully legalize marijuana. It is imperative that your elected officials hear from you in support of this measure. If you live in one of the six states (Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Vermont) considering the legalization of marijuana for all adults, you can click on the appropriate link below and go directly to your state’s action alert. You can also click here to see if your state is considering any legislation pertaining to marijuana law reform.
Tell Your Elected Officials to Support Marijuana Legalization!
Polling data released this week by Public Policy Polling shows a large base of support for marijuana law reforms in New Hampshire. Not only is there majority support from New Hampshire voters for the medical use of marijuana and decriminalizing its possession, but more than half support regulating and taxing marijuana in a manner similar to alcohol.
When asked if they would support or oppose changing New Hampshire law to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol, where stores would be licensed to sell marijuana to adults 21 and older, 53% responded they would support this law and only 37% were opposed.
62% stated that they would support a change in the law to provide for a fine of up to $100 without jail time or the threat of arrest for those who possess an ounce or less of marijuana and 68% support allowing for its physician supervised use. Even more enlightening, 52% stated an elected official’s support of medical marijuana made them more likely to support them.
Fortunately for New Hampshire lawmakers, they have the opportunity to capitalize on this groundswell of support for sensible marijuana laws. Legislation has already been introduced to decriminalize the possession of marijuana and a separate measure has been introduced to allow patients to use marijuana for medical purposes. The incoming governor has even voiced her support for legalizing medical use.
If you live in New Hampshire, you can use NORML’s Take Action to easily contact your elected officials in support of these measures. Click here to view our alert for decriminalization and here for medical use.
You can view the full polling data here.
Members of the New Hampshire state Senate this morning failed to override Governor John Lynch’s veto of SB 409, which sought to allow for the personal possession, cultivation, and use of cannabis by qualified patients. The Senate voted 13 to 10 to override the Governor’s veto. However, 16 total ‘yes’ votes were necessary to achieve the two-thirds Senate majority necessary to enact SB 409 into law.
Although House members had overwhelmingly backed SB 409, Senate support for the measure had consistently been more evenly split, with Senate members having previously voted 13-9 in favor of the bill. According to a MPP news release, two Democratic Senators, Lou D’Allesandro and Sylvia Larsen, reversed their prior ‘yes’ votes on the bill and decided to uphold the veto of Gov. Lynch, who is also a Democrat.
In 2009, Gov. Lynch vetoed a separate medicinal cannabis law. That year, members of the Senate also fell just shy of the votes necessary to override him.
While today’s outcome is disappointing, the future nonetheless looks bright for the passage medical cannabis legalization in New Hampshire. Lynch, a four-term governor, recently announced that he would not be seeking re-election in 2012. Hopefully, New Hampshire’s next Governor will listen to the will of its people and to the majority of state lawmakers and sign medical marijuana legalization into law. If so, the Granite State will soon join fellow New England states Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont — all of which now allow for the possession and use of cannabis as a medicine.