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Sununu Signs Law to Help People Void Some Marijuana Possession Convictions

Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a bill into law that provides a procedure for the annulment of arrests or convictions for possession of three-quarters or less of an ounce of marijuana.

The measure is for those offenses that occurred before Sept. 16, 2017, which is the effective date for marijuana decriminalization in New Hampshire, making possession of 3/4 or less a violation.

Under the new law, a person convicted for the lower possession amount may petition the court to annul the arrest or court record.

The procedure requires that the prosecuting office for the offense be notified. It spells out that the prosecutor may object within 10 days of the notice of the petition to then request a hearing.

Without objection in that time frame, the court shall grant the annulment petition. If there is an objection, the court holds a hearing and the prosecutor is required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the petitioner "knowingly or purposely obtained, purchased, transported, or possessed, actually or constructively..." marijuana in an amount exceeding 3/4 of an ounce.

A similar bill neared passage during the last legislative session, before being killed in the Senate. The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Rep. Renny Cushing, a Democrat from Hampton, is the prime sponsor of the bill. On Friday, he said the annulment procedure helps some people remove the burden, and stigma, of having a criminal conviction on their record.

"It's going to affect hundreds, if not thousands of people," he said in a phone interview. "This is a good step forward to repairing some of the collateral damage of the war on marijuana."

Matt Simon is New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project. He did not have a specific estimate of the number of people who could possibly make use of the new law, but he says it is potentially thousands.

“Thousands of otherwise law-abiding Granite Staters are still stuck with criminal records for possessing small amounts of cannabis prior to September 2017, when the decriminalization law took effect," Simon said in a statement. "HB 399 will allow these Granite Staters to have their records annulled so they can move forward in life with a clean slate. Gov. Sununu should be applauded for signing this important bill into law.”

Dan is a long-time New Hampshire journalist who has written for outlets including Foster's Daily Democrat, The Citizen of Laconia, The Boston Globe, and The Eagle-Tribune. He comes to NHPR from the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he reported on state, local, and national politics.
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