New Hampshire lawmakers vote for bill decriminalizing marijuana

by Ted Siefer, Reuters

State representatives in New Hampshire on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, although the measure is likely to face resistance from the senate and the governor.

The bill, passed by the state House of Representatives by a vote of 297-67, would essentially treat possessing up to a half ounce (14 grams) of marijuana like a traffic violation. A first offense would carry a $100 fine.

The measure would bring New Hampshire in line with other New England states that have relaxed marijuana possession laws in recent years.

The House has passed several decriminalization bills in past years, but they have failed to make it out of the Senate. Governor Maggie Hassan, a Democrat, has said she would veto a decriminalization bill.

Wednesday’s winning margin in the Republican-majority House, however, was bigger than in previous votes in favor of decriminalization, and it raises the possibility that a super-majority of lawmakers may be able override any veto by the governor.

A growing number of U.S. states have relaxed marijuana laws, including Washington and Colorado where voters have approved the legal sale of the drug. Possession of small amounts of marijuana became legal in Washington, D.C., last month though Republicans in the U.S. Congress blocked any measures to allow its sale, noting that it remains illegal under federal law.

Supporters of the bills have argued that current criminal penalties for marijuana possession are particularly out of place in New Hampshire, whose state motto is “Live free or die.”

The sponsor of the decriminalization bill, Representative Adam Schroadter, a Republican from Newmarket, pointed to a recent poll that showed nearly 60 percent of New Hampshire residents support the legalization of marijuana.

“New Hampshire is a grassroots state,” he said in an interview before the vote. “People here are very politically aware. I think people just see (decriminalization) as common sense.”

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