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.