CONCORD, N.H. — The New Hampshire House has voted to decriminalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana — making it a violation punishable by a fine only.
The House passed the measure 215-92 on a bipartisan vote and the bill now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate.
The House has passed similar measures each of the past five years, but the bipartisan support of Wednesday’s vote may enable proponents to overcome a veto by Gov. Maggie Hassan. She has said she does not support decriminalization.
Newmarket Republican Adam Schroadter, the sponsor of the bill, said New Hampshire is the last New England state that still criminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana. He noted that Maine decriminalized it in 1976.
“With a strong vote today we can send a powerful message that the time has finally come to reduce New Hampshire’s excessive penalties,” he said.
Currently, possession of up to an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and of fine of up to $2,000. The maximum fine would be $100 under the bill passed Wednesday.
Hudson Republican Rep. Shawn Jasper opposed passage, saying an ounce of marijuana is the equivalent of 50 or 60 joints.
“That’s like carrying around two 30-packs of beer for personal consumption,” Jasper said.
He also objected to a provision of the bill that states a person cannot lose their drivers’ license if they have marijuana in their system.
“Instead of taking the time to do things right, we’re like a freight train moving forward,” Jasper said.
Advocates stressed that the bill is not the equivalent of legalizing marijuana, because it would become a violation punishable by a fine.
Manchester Republican Steve Vaillancourt, a supporter of legalization and decriminalization, noted that even conservative Texas Gov. Rick Perry supports decriminalization.
The bill would also make cultivation of up to six marijuana plants a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
Rep. Keith Murphy, a Bedford Republican, said there were nearly 2,800 marijuana arrests in New Hampshire in 2010 — 89 percent of them for simple possession.
“We believe our taxpayer dollars would be better spent addressing crimes like murder, rape and theft,” Murphy said. “Gov. Hassan should explain to the people of New Hampshire why she believes they deserve up to a year in jail for simple marijuana possession.”