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NH set to decriminalize 1/4 ounces of Marijuana

By: skamikaze

By Norma Love Associated Press Writer / March 18, 2008

CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire residents could possess one-quarter ounce or less of marijuana without facing jail under a bill headed to the state Senate.

The House voted 193-141 Tuesday to decriminalize the small amount of the drug, making possessing it a violation subject to a $200 fine. Under current law, possessing that amount could mean spending a year in jail and paying a $2,000 fine.

Supporters’ victory was short-lived. Gov. John Lynch’s spokesman, Colin Manning, said the governor would veto the bill if it reaches him.

"This sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire’s young people about the very real danger of drug use," said Manning.

The bill didn’t even appear likely to survive the Senate. "I don’t think he’s going to be seeing it," Senate Majority Leader Joseph Foster said of the governor.

Supporters argued current law costs youths who experiment with the drug all chances at receiving financial aid to attend college. They said it wasn’t fair to penalize them for life for a youthful mistake.

Windham Republican Jason Bedrick said he doesn’t advocate using marijuana, but that wasn’t the issue.

"The question is whether a teenager making a stupid decision should face a year in prison and loss of all funding for college," said Bedrick.

Bedrick called the state’s penalties "overly harsh."

"What societal interest is served by giving them a record for life?" he said. Instead of harsh penalties, society should emphasize education, he said.

Opponents pointed out that the bill would not change stiffer penalties for transporting the same quarter ounce or selling it. They said that youths caught in a car would still face a misdemeanor and those selling it, a felony.

Whitefield Republican John Tholl, police chief in Dalton, said reducing the penalty in the selective circumstance to little more than a parking ticket could lead to trouble for youths confused by the law’s distinctions between possession, transporting and sale.

"The controlled drug statute is complex and involved," he said.

"For example, if someone has a quarter ounce in his possession and gives some to a buddy, he can be arrested and charged for sale and a felony," said Tholl. "If we send a message to young people that a quarter ounce is not big deal, they’re going to ignore the potential problems coming."

At least 12 states have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana for personal use, generally setting the limit at a single ounce or less and levying a fine for possession, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

© Copyright 2008 Associated Press.

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