House votes to decriminalize possession of quarter-ounce or less of marijuana
CONCORD -- After voting to allow pubs to stay open until 2 a.m., the House Thursday voted to decriminalize possession of a quarter ounce or less of marijuana, rejecting arguments that "pot" is a "gateway" to harder drugs.
If the Senate and Gov. Maggie Hassan agree, which is unlikely, possession of the small amount would still be a crime, but it would be a violation subject to a fine of up to $200, rather than its current status as a misdemeanor.
Hassan spokesman Marc Goldberg said Hassan supports allowing access to medical marijuana for patients if "appropriately regulated with controlled and limited dispensing,."
But he said, "She does not support further decriminalization measures" as called for in the bill passed Thursday.
The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee had recommended that the House kill the original bill, decriminalizing possession of an ounce or less of marijuana.
The House refused to do that on a 229-100 vote, and then adopted an amendment decriminalizing the smaller amount, 214-155.
Before the votes, Rep. Steve Vaillancourt, R-Manchester, said the bill would bring "some sanity to our marijuana laws."
"It is the least we can do in keeping with what the House did in each of the past two sessions," Vaillancourt said.
Vaillancourt said marijuana is "rather benign and is "less harmful than legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco.
"No one has ever died from using too much marijuana."
Many who died from alcohol and tobacco would be alive "if their drug of choice was marijuana," he said.
Rep. Dan Eaton, D-Stoddard, also supporting decriminalization, said that with the current prohibition, "We are making billionaires out of mobsters."
But Rep. Linda Harriott-Gathright, D-Nashua, said, "If you approve this, what's going to be the next drug to be desired because it's illegal to use?
"Marijuana can have a variety of adverse short and long term effects especially on your pulmonary and cardiac health,'' she said.
Rep. Joel Winters, D-Nashua, called the bill "a common sense measure that passed the House under both Democratic and Republican leaders.
"A criminal offense and a criminal record can do much more harm than a small amount of marijuana," Winters said.
Rep. Laura Pantelakos, D-Portsmouth, however, called marijuana "a gateway to harder drugs."