New Hampshire just became the 22nd state in the U.S. to eliminate the possibility of spending time behind bars for possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed, and Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed, a bill to decriminalize cannabis in the Granite State.
The legislation went into effect on Saturday. That means cannabis is now decriminalized in all of New England.
Under the new law, people caught possessing up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana will receive a $100 fine for their first or second offenses. The punishment rises to a $300 fine for a third offense within a three-year period. If police find someone possessing small amounts of marijuana a fourth time in that window, they could be charged with a class B misdemeanor.
Until now, first-time cannabis possession was treated as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year behind bars and a $2,000 fine.
“There is no good reason to continue arresting and prosecuting people for marijuana possession,” Matt Simon of the Marijuana Policy Project, which lobbied lawmakers to pass the decriminalization bill, said in a press release.
While celebrating the decriminalization victory, advocates want the state to go even further by fully legalizing marijuana and regulating its sales.
A poll released in May found that 68% of adults in the state support cannabis legalization.
“New Hampshire lawmakers should continue to follow their constituents’ lead on this issue,” Simon said in the press release. “Every state in New England is either implementing or strongly considering legislation to regulate marijuana for adult use. It is time for the Legislature to develop a realistic marijuana prohibition exit strategy for New Hampshire.”
Last November, voters in Massachusetts and Maine approved marijuana legalization ballot measures. Lawmakers in Vermont came very close to passing legislation to end cannabis prohibition, but ran out of time to enact it during a short special session this summer. And legalization bills in Connecticut and Rhode Island seemed to pick up some momentum, though weren’t voted on.
New Hampshire lawmakers also approved legislation this year to create a study commission to examine possible future legalization in the state. Its findings are due by November 2018.
Rhode Island and Vermont officials also created legalization study commissions that are expected to begin work soon.
Federal Medical Marijuana Amendment Author Dies At 79
If you’ve only been paying close attention to marijuana policy for a few years, Maurice Hinchey’s name is one you may not recognize.
But if you are a patient who relies on medical cannabis or an entrepreneur in the legal marijuana industry, you owe Hinchey, who died this week, a debt of gratitude.
As a Democratic congressman from New York, Hinchey was the original sponsor of the federal spending provision that now protects state medical cannabis laws from Department of Justice interference.
First introduced in 2001 and then periodically after that, the measure wasn’t even enacted until after Hinchey retired from Congress in 2013.
The next year, after repeatedly failing on the floor of the House of Representatives, the measure was finally approved with a bipartisan vote and was included in a Fiscal Year 2015 spending bill signed into law by then-President Obama in late 2014.
Here’s a video of Hinchey introducing and debating the measure for the first time, in July 2001:
(Scroll to 10:08:20.)
In 2001, only eight states had legalized medical cannabis, a far cry from the 29 state laws that are now on the books.
Instead of insisting on a vote that would almost certainly have lost, Hinchey withdrew the amendment following a passionate debate.
Two years later, Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher of California teamed up with the Democrat on the officially rebranded Hinchey-Rohrabacher measure.
That lost, by a vote of 152 to 273:
(Scroll to 10:14:05.)
The bipartisan duo teamed up on the amendment several more times in subsequent years, losing each time.
(Scroll to 2:56:05.)
(Scroll to 6:36:00.)
(Scroll to 10:31:25.)
(Scroll to 7:24:25.)
Then, in 2014, after Hinchey retired, Democrat Sam Farr of California joined with Rohrabacher in sponsoring the measure. By that time, many more members of Congress represented places where constituents were using medical cannabis in accordance with state law.
Finally, the dam had broken. The Rohrabacher-Farr measure passed the House by a vote of 219 to 189. It got included in the final spending bill that year, and it was approved the next year, as well, by an increased tally of 242 to 186.
While House Republican leadership has since blocked floor votes on the measure and other cannabis amendments, it remains current law thanks to victories in the Senate Appropriations Committee and its language not being deleted from short-term federal funding extension bills to keep the government operating.
That’s the case at least until December 8, when current federal funding — along with policy riders like the medical cannabis protections — are set to expire.
In the meantime, advocates working to convince Congress to include the provision in Fiscal Year 2018 legislation should take a moment to consider the efforts of the late congressman whose work more than a decade and a half ago began to make the federal government take medical marijuana seriously.
Photo courtesy of the Hinchey Family.
Former Republican A.G. Warns Sessions Against Marijuana Crackdown
Current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions would be wrong to crack down on state marijuana laws, one of his Republican predecessors says.
“To prosecute an act that is otherwise lawful under state law, one could make the argument [that] as a matter of policy, we’ve got other priorities we ought to be spending our resources on,” Alberto Gonzales, who served as attorney general during President George W. Bush’s administration, said in an interview with Newsweek.
“With respect to everything else going on in the U.S., this is pretty low priority,” he added.
And what’s more, cracking down on seriously ill people who rely on medical cannabis and their providers who are following state laws would look bad, Gonzales warned his successor.
“The optics just aren’t very good, quite frankly,” he said.
As a U.S. senator, Sessions was long one of Congress’s most vocal opponents of legalization, saying last year that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
But while deploying threatening and concerning comments about cannabis policy from time to time as attorney general, he hasn’t moved to rescind Obama-era guidance that generally allows states to implement their own marijuana laws without federal interference. At least not yet.
Last week, at a House hearing, Sessions testified that the previous administration’s approach remains in effect for now.
Gonzales, in the Newsweek interview, said that Sessions would probably clear any big cannabis moves with the White House first.
“What people often fail to understand or appreciate, is that the attorney general works for the president,” he said. “While the attorney general has a great deal of say about law enforcement policy, so does the White House. When Jeff Sessions makes something, he responds to the White House.”
On the campaign trail, President Trump repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws, going so far as to say he personally knows people who benefit from medical cannabis.
Despite Gonzales’s apparent supporting for letting states enact their own marijuana polices today, his Justice Department argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004 that it had the right to punish medical cannabis patients who were following local policies.
Top GOP Senator’s Bill Lets DC Legalize Marijuana Sales
Washington, D.C. would finally be allowed to legalize marijuana sales under a new bill authored by a powerful Republican senator.
Voters in the nation’s capital approved a ballot initiative that legalized cannabis possession and home cultivation in 2014. But under a current annual budget rider, the city is not allowed to spend its own money setting up a legal regulatory system for marijuana sales. As such, the city can’t earn tax revenue on recreational marijuana like Colorado and seven other states that have ended prohibition are.
That would change under legislation released on Monday by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
The new bill, which funds various federal agencies and concerns appropriations covering the District of Columbia government, is totally silent on the matter of D.C. marijuana sales. That means that if its language is enacted as part of a Fiscal Year 2018 spending agreement, the ban in current law will disappear.
But, unfortunately for marijuana legalization advocates, it’s not that easy. The version of 2018 spending legislation approved by the House in September not only continues the current ban but actually broadens its language to close a potential loophole that advocates had urged D.C. officials to pursue in order to fund regulation of legal cannabis sales.
As a result, if the language in the new bill released by Cochran on Monday is approved by the Senate, the differences will need to be reconciled by a conference committee made up of a handful of members from either chamber. And at that stage, behind closed doors, anything could happen.
In 2015, Cochran made a similar move by excluding the D.C marijuana sales ban language in a chairman’s mark. But the House-passed ban was included in that year’s version of final spending legislation anyway.
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