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Marijuana Decriminalization Approved by N.H. House

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New Hampshire residents would be permitted to possess up to a quarter of an ounce of marijuana under a bill approved by the state House of Representatives, the Nashua Telegraph reported March 19.

New Hampshire's governor has vowed to veto the bill, however, and the measure also faces strong opposition in the state Senate.

Turning aside protests from law-enforcement officials, the House voted 193-141 in favor of the bill, which would reduce the penalty for minor possession of marijuana from up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine to a misdemeanor with a $200 fine.

Backers rallied support for the bill by citing a federal law that punishes college students with drug convictions by taking away their financial aid. “How can we expect young people to get back on the right path if we take away every opportunity to do so?” said Rep. Jeffrey Fontas.

Rep. John Tholl was among those who spoke against the measure. “If you send a message to the young people of our state that a quarter ounce of marijuana is no big deal, like a traffic ticket, what you are doing is you are telling them we are not going to be looking at this very hard,” he said.

Colin Manning, press secretary for Gov. John Lynch, said the bill “sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire's young people about the very real dangers of drug use.  That is why the governor joins with the House Criminal Justice Committee and law enforcement in opposing this bill.”

That point may be moot, as Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster said the measure has no chance of passing. “I know of no interest in the Senate on either side of the aisle to entertain this,” he said.

The bill received some bipartisan support, with 40 Republicans joining 153 Democrats in backing decriminalization. “I heard several Republicans say they were for it because they thought it could lead to less overcrowding and less spending for our jails,” said Rep. John Hunt, a Republican who opposed the bill.

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