By: Timothy C. Ayer
New Hampshire is soon to enjoy relaxed laws governing the possession of marijuana. Under a bill signed into law by Gov. Sununu this week, several types of marijuana possession have been reduced from criminal misdemeanors to violations (like a traffic ticket). Beginning in mid-September, possession of less than ¾ of an ounce of marijuana, 5 grams or less of hashish, and (if you are 21 or older) personal use amounts of marijuana-infused products will be punishable as violations, not crimes. People convicted of these violations will generally only face a fine of $100 to $300.
New Hampshire has recognized the benefits that this new law will provide to its citizens, including keeping peoples’ criminal records clean, addressing inequalities in the justice system, and a focus on treatment, rather than punishment. To help achieve these goals, the police can no longer arrest you for violations of these new laws.
The new law has its limits, though. It only reduces the level of “possession” offenses, not purchase and sales offenses. It also does not affect the state’s authority to prosecute marijuana-related DUIs. While it reduces the penalties for possession of small amounts, a fourth violation in three years is again punishable as a class B misdemeanor.
Anyone under 18 who is found in possession of a small amount of marijuana, hashish, or marijuana-infused products may still be prosecuted as delinquents. Police can still demand identification if they find you in possession of even a small amount of marijuana. And remember: Although it is only punishable by small fines, marijuana possession is not yet legal.
Most importantly, marijuana possession is still illegal federally, and nothing the state of New Hampshire does can affect the federal government’s authority to prosecute possession, even small amounts. And although the federal government has historically respected states’ experiments in legalization, the current administration has been vocal that it may cease this practice.
If you have any questions about your liabilities or rights under this new law, you should contact an attorney. The attorneys at Shaheen & Gordon have years of experience, and our attorneys can provide guidance to help you navigate this new and evolving legal landscape.