Marijuana Decriminalization

LFDA Editor

In Brief: 

  • Marijuana decriminalization would reduce possession of small amounts of the drug from a Class A misdemeanor to a civil offense or violation, much like a traffic ticket.
  • Instead of potential jail time, offenders would be subject to small fines, and the offense would not appear on their criminal records.
  • Proponents of decriminalization argue that it would allow the state to devote law enforcement resources to more serious crimes.
  • Opponents argue that marijuana is a dangerous drug that should remain strictly prohibited, or see decriminalization as an ineffective ‘half-step’ that should be bypassed in favor of full legalization. 

Infographic: Marijuana Decriminalization

Issue Facts:

What is marijuana decriminalization?

Decriminalization of marijuana is often confused with legalization – but decriminalizing cannabis is not the same thing as making it legal to smoke or consume marijuana for recreational purposes. Instead, marijuana decriminalization reduces the potential consequences of being caught in possession of small quantities of the drug. 

Existing NH marijuana laws

Currently, getting caught with of any amount of marijuana in NH is a serious crime. 

  • Possession of any quantity of cannabis is considered a Class A Misdemeanor, punishable by up to 1 year in jail or a $2,000 fine. 
  • Selling marijuana, or possession with the intent to sell, is a felony offense, entailing up to 20 years of jail time or a $300,000 fine. 
  • Punishments vary based on the quantity an offender possesses: the more marijuana you have, the greater potential fine or prison sentence you could be subjected to. 
  • Sentences and fines for marijuana offenses double if the drug was sold or possessed with intent to sell within 1,000 feet of a school zone. 
  • Growing marijuana is treated as another form of possession, with the same potential consequences. 

What decriminalization would mean in NH

Decriminalization would significantly lower the punishment for being caught with a small amount of marijuana. Proposed quantity thresholds vary from 0.5oz up to 3.5oz. 

  • Instead of a misdemeanor, possession of small amounts of cannabis would be reduced to a civil offense or violation—much like a traffic ticket. 
  • The offense would no longer be punishable by jail time, and would not become part of an offender’s criminal record. 
  • However, it’s important to note that possession of larger quantities of marijuana, selling, or possession with the intent to sell would still be considered criminal offenses.

An April 2014 WMUR-Granite State poll found 61% of NH adults support marijuana decriminalization, with 24% opposed and 3% neutral.  An LFDA public discussion (“Citizens weigh in on marijuana decriminalization – 1822 responses")  found even greater support, with 88% of respondents expressing favor for decriminalization.

How is this different from medicinal marijuana?

NH’s medicinal marijuana law, which was passed in 2013, legalizes the use of cannabis for certain prescribed medical purposes. 

  • Those using marijuana for legal medicinal purposes must have a qualifying condition, such as cancer, glaucoma, or HIV.  
  • Medicinal marijuana users must apply for a DHHS-issued ID card and can only acquire the drug from a licensed dispensary. 

For more information, see Medicinal Marijuana.

Decriminalization in US and around the world

  • 19 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. 
  • NH is the only state in New England that has not decriminalized marijuana. 
  • Many nations have also decriminalized possession or cultivation of specific quantities marijuana for personal use, such as Argentina, Czech Republic, Netherlands, and Portugal. 
  • The majority of countries and US states continue to enforce a full prohibition of marijuana use. 

Federal marijuana law

The US federal government considers cannabis a Schedule 1 Controlled Substance, a classification which states that there is “no currently accepted medical use” for the drug. There have been extensive legal challenges to this classification, but thus far, none have been successful. 

  • So far as the federal government is concerned, possession and distribution of marijuana are prohibited under the Controlled Substances Act. 
  • Federal law trumps state law in cases where the two conflict. 
  • In 2014, Congress passed a measure that prohibits the Drug Enforcement Administration from using federal funds to impede state medical marijuana laws. However, this provision does not apply to decriminalization statutes.   
  • This means people possessing marijuana have no strict guarantee of immunity from federal prosecution regardless of state laws. 

Past NH legislation

There have been several attempts to decriminalize marijuana in NH. Previous attempts in recent years passed the House but were rejected by the Senate. 

Related issues: 

Medical Marijuana
Prison Reform


"For" Position

By LFDA Editor

NH should decriminalize marijuana possession of small amounts of marijuana

  • Decriminalization would save NH money. In 2010, the state spent roughly $6.5 million on enforcing marijuana laws. 
  • Marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol, which is a regulated, legal substance. Its potential risks do not justify such strict punishments for use or possession. 
  • Decriminalization would free up law enforcement resources to tackle more serious crimes, such the state’s growing opioid problem. 
  • Current marijuana laws leave those convicted with hefty collateral sanctions, such as reduced chances of finding employment and difficulty gaining further education, placing a greater burden on public assistance programs. 
  • Decriminalization could reduce overcrowding in NH prisons. Nationally, roughly 3% of state prisoners are being held for marijuana sale or possession.   

"Against" Position

By LFDA Editor

Marijuana should not be decriminalized in NH

  • Decriminalization would increase usage of the drug, particularly among vulnerable youth populations. 
  • Marijuana is a dangerous drug that has been linked to depression, immune suppression, poor concentration, apathy and reduced motivation.
  • Marijuana is a “gateway drug” that leads to greater rates of abuse of more dangerous substances, such as cocaine and heroin. 
  • Marijuana would not be taxable under decriminalization statutes. Only fully legalizing it would make the drug a potential revenue source.   
  • Decriminalizing marijuana instead of legalizing it does not address the more serious problems associated with the drug, such the role it plays in funding gangs and criminal networks and the dangers of contaminated or adulterated cannabis.  



Passed House and Senate

Decriminalizes possession of 3/4 ounce or less of marijuana, with additional penalties for violators under age twenty-one.

Killed in the Senate

Decriminalizes possession of 1/2 ounce or less of marijuana and 5 grams or less of hashish, with additional penalties for violators under age twenty-one.

Signed by Governor

Reduces the penalty for possessing 1/4 ounce or less of marijuana from a class A to an unspecified misdemeanor.

Signed by Governor

Decreases the waiting period for petitioning for the annulment of a misdemeanor marijuana or hashish offense from 3 years to 2 years.

Killed in the Senate

Establishes a commission to study legalization of marijuana.

Signed by Governor

Authorizes a university to grow industrial hemp for research purposes.

Killed in the Senate

Prohibits the designation of industrial hemp as a controlled substance.

Signed by Governor

Prohibits the sale, use, or possession of synthetic drugs, such as "spice."

Tabled in the Senate

Decriminalizes possession of 1/2 ounce or less of marijuana, with additional penalties for violators under age twenty-one.

Interim Study

Bans synthetic marijuana.

Killed in the House

Bans synthetic marijuana and bath salts.

Killed in the Senate

Decriminalizes possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, with additional penalties for violators under age twenty-one.

Killed in the House

Legalizes personal use of up to one ounce of marijuana by persons twenty-one years of age or older. This bill also authorizes the licensing of marijuana wholesale, retail, cultivation, and testing facilities, and imposes a tax on marijuana sales.

Killed in the Senate

Decriminalizes possession of 1/4 ounce or less of marijuana and 5 grams or less of hashish, with additional penalties for violators under age eighteen.

Killed in the House

Removes criminal penalties for possession of marijuana, without any framework for taxation.

Killed in the Senate

Decriminalizes possession of 1/2 ounce or less of marijuana, with additional penalties for violators under age twenty-one.

Killed in the House

Legalizes and taxes marijuana for adults over age twenty-one.

Killed in the Senate

Decriminalizes possession of 1/4 ounce or less of marijuana, with additional penalties for violators under age eighteen.

Should NH decriminalize small amounts of marijuana?


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Sondra Dumont
- rumney

Sun, 03/20/2016 - 4:36pm

The decriminalization of marijuana, a plant with many benefits for people and the Earth, would solve many issues. The decriminalization of medical marijuana allows for law enforcement to focus on bigger issues this state is now facing: heroin. This dangerous drug needs our full attention. Law Enforcement have their hands full with this epidemic. Our youth is falling into the trap of heroin abuse faster than we can attack the problem at its source. If more resources were made available, say the same resources used in prosecuting the use of small amounts of marijuana, we would be better equipped to fight the battle with heroin.
As for the Earth, it would be a step in the right direction. We would see the growth of hemp for its multiple uses, being considered seriously. Everything from textile to plastics would be made by hemp and save the Earth from further damage. We need to consider the "why" of prohibition. With marijuana's many benefits, it is a curiosity as to why it is criminal.

Timothy m. Kay sr.
- Berlin

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 12:00am

hi, i think the state of colorado is an example nh should follow. i am not a professor or law enforcement, i am an example of someone that benefits from occasional marijuana use. i have had 2 head injuries and suffer from pain from the brain injuries. i know some people will look at me and say, oh thats a cop out. well, i offer you to drop the bull....  opinions that you learned in books and have compassion for people that actually struggle with more than normal issues, walk in my shoes man, then youll see. the reason i say to follow colorado example is they have a program that works. just think if you provide relief by use of dispensories, protect those dispensories, tax them heavily(like colorado) the state of nh wont have issues with tax shortfalls and roads bridges and schools not having the money to operate safely. i have always thought of the prohibition era as a period that wasnt fair to some people. personally alcohol isnt my thing, but to each his own. my opinion is mine only, i do not force my views on anyone, including you. i am not a burnout nor do i smoke all the time. i have never drink or drive, probably because i do not drink. i do not smoke and drive because its medication and makes me sleepy. dont look at all people the same, some of us know how things are, some do not. no matter how much some people are told not to do, you always have some that do and not care.(drinking or texting and driving) i know my limits, i am not dumb. i also know that if i smoke and drive i am not going to be arrest free. just because you say that smoking is bad or no to legalizing marijuana, what makes your opinion more important than mine? i am american just like you, i dont advertise my smoking, i dont do it around or in front of my kids, and ive never hit my wife. you drink if front of your kids, drive drunk and hit your wife. whos the bad guy???

Sky McDonough
- Franklin

Sat, 02/01/2014 - 12:07pm

Marijuana: Ganjahk, Hemp, Cannibis, Tree of Life, Hard Herb, Sensimia, Mary Jane

THC gives a feeling of euphoria, and should not bee seen as a toxic chemical; There are real toxic chemicals in the world we don't think about that we intake through out skin and in the air we breathe that we don't think about: Pollution, Lead, Fluoride, and Second hand cigarette smoke; These toxic chemicals are said to end up in our liver (accounting for 80% of US population with Acne problems) and in our blood, that eventually ends up going to our brain, causing the Penal gland to calcify, said to be our spiritual antenna (explaining the Atheism in the youth) Where Marijuana is Beneficial in de-calcifying our Penal gland. 

Marijuana should have no age limit, as the Native American Herbalist claim, it's good for the whole family: The Father, the Mother, the Son, and the Daughter. A Pregnant woman may use it without fear of hurting her child, and should be used during the last months, and during delivery, as it helps contraptions. This special plant, opens up or mind, leveling us intellectually, increasing creativity, strengthens our nerves, and promotes a feeling of unity and love.

Marijuana is not a drug, it is an Herb, it is a tree that bears fruit with seed in it, with leaves that are for the healing of the nations, and flowers that are great for smoking or teas, and seeds that are more nutritional than meat.

Marijuana, the Healing Herb, has been used by Drug Addicts and has proven to be beneficial to overcome serious withdraws associated with Heroin, Cocaine, Pharmaceuticals, Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Coffee. Marijuana is known now to relieve pain; Heroin withdraws are described by some as screwdrivers being stabbed into your kneecaps constantly for a long period of time, sometime up to a month. Although I don't recommend using the Herb for insomnia, commonly associated with Heroin, Cigarettes, Alcohol, and Coffee withdrawals, I highly recommend Valerian root as the best cure for insomnia, along with passion flower, and chamomile. People have died from overdoses of these drugs (also from the withdraws) however, not one person has died from Marijuana overdose. 

The reason why it is commonly refereed to as Marijuana is only because the Prohibition was a part of the Border War with Mexico, being that Marijuana is the Spanish version of the name, and at the time racist government leaders used false propaganda to make the whites feel invaded by this "drug" used by the blacks. True enough there are higher incarcerations for Negro and Latin-Americans versus Caucasians, who often are given leanest convictions. 

The Truth is: Alcohol has ruined many people's lives, succumbing them to poverty due, the gateway drug, causing liver failure, drunk driving casualties, and murders. Marijuana should not be seen as "not as harmful as alcohol", but as the cure for such drugs, and other drugs found in the typical american life.

the ban will be lifted, and everyone is invited to take part in the tree of life.

Ernie Bridge
- Newport

Thu, 05/01/2014 - 11:21pm

Although medical marijuana works wonders for cancer victims and others nobody with a shred of honesty believes that the real push is for anything other than recreational legalization.

Here in NH we have a fully functional system to administer legal, recreational marijuana production and distribution. It's called the State Liquor Commission. I do not understand how so many words have been spoken by so many officials and experts without anybody seriously proposing that NH become the leader in this enterprise to co-opt the drug underground just as we did when we cut off the Mafia's prime cash flow source when we started the first state lottery.

BrianDunn's picture
Brian Dunn
- Henniker

Sat, 04/12/2014 - 10:37pm

Many people find the Libertarian stance on the legality of drugs off putting or ridiculous.

How could enacting such legislation possibly be beneficial to society?

First, we must think upon the current illegality of drugs. We have many people in prison; police officers seek out drug users on duty; prosecutors to convict them; food to feed drug abusers in jail; state appointed lawyers in some cases; gas for police vehicles pursuing abusers.

Everything listed above cost the state money. State money is tax payer money. This very literally means you. You the tax payer are paying cash out of your pocket to fund all of these things.

Now, we are running a 17.7 trillion dollar deficit. This deficit literally grows larger each passing minute.We are hemorrhaging money and we still find it necessary to finance a war on drugs?

The fact that so many people are in jail or being prosecuted or you have heard about in the news, is proof that the people in society who want to be on drugs are already on drugs. Even police officers admit they can not keep drugs out of the hands of drug users. If they could, they would. The war on drugs has failed, it has been failing for quite a long time. Just think of all the state money being used in vein to finance the things I mentioned above.

If we legalized drugs, we turn crippling expenditure into a money making enterprise overnight.

All the money previously used to keep drug abusers in prison, prosecute them, have police spend active duty time pursuing them is immediately freed up. Furthermore, the legalization of drugs increases state revenue through the money made by taxing the product.

I continue to argue that ending the war on drugs is actually very beneficial to the police force. With the money we have freed up and the increased tax revenue generated from sales, just think what the police could do with that new money. We could give raises to law enforcement officials. These people are paid to deal with the worst aspects of our society and have dedicated their lives to doing such. These people are not paid enough for the services they provide to society. We could also afford to hire more active duty policemen. We could upgrade cars and equipment. The options are endless, but that is the point.


The benefits would not be limited to the state and police, we must also consider the decreased traffic flow into our already overbooked court systems.

I am a Libertarian running for office in the state of New Hampshire. These are the real reasons why I believe legalizing drugs is beneficial and should not just be shrugged off as ridiculous.


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Issue Status

HB 640 - a 2017 bill that decriminalizes possession of small quantities of marijuana, with additional penalties for violators under age 21 - passed the House. In the Senate, it was amended to lower the threshold from one ounce to three-quarters of an ounce of the drug. The bill now returns to the House. 


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