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Loosening N.H.'s Marijuana Laws Gets Broad Support During House Hearing

In November Massachusetts and Maine voted to legalize marijuana.

A bill that would make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation rather than a crime received strong support at a public hearing Wednesday.

If the New Hampshire House passes the measure, it will be the 8th time it has done so in recent years.

Currently possession of an ounce of marijuana in New Hampshire results in a misdemeanor charge, up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. But if the measure debated Wednesday becomes law, people over 21 would face just a $100 fine and no jail time.

Devon Chaffee of the New Hampshire ACLU told committee members the current penalties poses an unfair economic burden, and noted the state spends about $6.5 million a year pursuing these charges.

“Year after year and poll after poll we have been told that Granite Staters do not agree with current N.H. law that continues to expend their taxpayer dollars to arrest individuals on low-level offenses for possession of small amounts of marijuana,” Chaffee said.

Many who testified in support of the bill, including the prime sponsor, Rep. Renny Cushing of Hampton, pointed to neighboring states, who've moved to loosen their marijuana laws.

"There's been a bit of a game  change when it comes to this issue," Cushing said. "I live in Hampton so if I go five miles South of my house I'm in Salisbury, Massachusetts where it's legal for adults to use and possess marijuana. If I go seven miles North, I'm in Kittery, Maine, where it is also legal to do that," Cushing said, stressing that N.H. is the only New England state to not decriminalize marijuana. 

Kate Frey from the drug advocacy group New Futures, was neutral on the bill, where in years past the group has been against it. Frey testified that the bill adequately addressed prevention by allocating the money collected from fines towards prevention as well as requiring minors found with marijuana to have to undergo a risk assessment test.  

During the hearing more than a dozen people spoke in favor of the measure, with one opposed who stressed passing this would send the wrong message to the state's younger residents.

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