New Bills Would Lessen Penalties For Marijuana

Two bills before state lawmakers aim to loosen marijuana penalties, lessening the punishments for possessing smaller amounts of the drug or doing away with any punishment altogether in New Hampshire.

Yesterday, backers of relaxed marijuana restrictions showed they're taking a different tack. Rather than legalize marijuana possession outright, one of the two bills before a House committee yesterday would make the penalty for possessing less than 1.25 ounces of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor. The violation could bring a fine of no more than $200.

The bill's supporters cast the proposal as a way to keep marijuana possession charges from blocking an individual's educational and vocational opportunities, and they distinguished marijuana from other forms of illegal drugs.

Those convicted of marijuana possession can "become ineligible for financial aid for college, cannot enlist in the armed services and can even lose eligibility for employment," Rep. Jeffrey Fontas, a Nashua Democrat and the bill's sponsor, said at a press conference before yesterday's public hearing. "This is a bill about protecting the opportunity for young people to grow up and be productive, fulfilling citizens in their communities."

Another bill - sponsored by Rep. Charles Weed ( yes! , it really is his name) a Keene Democrat - would permit the possession of up to a quarter of an ounce of marijuana for medical or personal use. Weed also sponsored last year's proposal to legalize marijuana use and sales, a bill that went beyond what other states allows.

A subgroup of the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee will study the proposals.

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