CITIZEN VOICES® Bill would make it easier to annul marijuana offenses

Jan 14, 2019

When it comes to marijuana in the Granite State, only patients with a prescription card can possess up to two ounces of medicinal cannabis. Possession of pot in any other circumstance is illegal.

New Hampshire’s marijuana laws did undergo a substantial change on September 16, 2017, when the state decriminalized possession of small amounts of cannabis (under ¾ of an ounce). Before that date, possession of even small amounts of cannabis was a felony, which could mean jail time or a substantial fine. Decriminalization meant that possession of smaller amounts of the drug became a less serious offense — a violation, much like a speeding ticket. 

Learn more about marijuana decriminalization
 

What to do with past marijuana convictions?​

This year, Rep. Renny Cushing (D-Hampton) is sponsoring HB 399, a bill that would make it easier to annul past marijuana possession convictions. An annulment would basically erase the offense from a person’s criminal record.

Learn more about criminal records annulment 

Cushing filed a similar bill in 2018, which passed the New Hampshire House but died in the Senate.

The bill would apply to convictions for possession of small amounts of marijuana before September 16, 2017. It would create a special process for requesting an annulment of those arrests or convictions, one with rules designed to make it easier and put the burden on prosecutors to prove why an annulment shouldn’t be granted.

Once someone filed a petition to have an offense for possession of a small quantity of marijuana annulled, a state prosecutor would have 10 days in which to object. If the prosecutor does not object within 10 days, the court would have to grant the petition for annulment. If a prosecutor objects, the court schedules a hearing where the prosecutor would have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the amount of marijuana exceeded 3/4 of an ounce. Otherwise, the annulment is granted.

Those requesting the annulment would have to pay a $100 fee.
 

Pros and cons

Proponents say it is a matter of fairness. As criminal convictions often keep people from getting jobs, the state shouldn’t continue to punish someone for something that is no longer against the law. They also point to all the reasons marijuana was decriminalized, such as the argument that marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol.​

Opponents say past criminal behavior by people who knew they were violating the law shouldn’t be excused. Those who broke the law, they say, knew the potential consequences and shouldn’t get a retroactive break. They argue this is particularly true in cases where defendants may have pled guilty to a lesser marijuana charge in order to avoid prosecution for more serious offenses.

Should New Hampshire make it easy to have convictions for possession of less than ¾ ounce of marijuana erased from a person's criminal record?​

 

Should New Hampshire make it easy to have convictions for possession of less than ¾ ounce of marijuana erased from a person's criminal record?

Discussion held on Citizens Count website and Facebook page January 14, 2019

174 citizens responded119 people were in favor of making it easier to annul marijuana offenses16 people were opposed to making it easier to annul marijuana offenses.39 people commented on related questions and issues instead

What Participants Said

Yes: 119 people were in favor of making it easier to annul marijuana offenses.

  • “Yes, I support HB399. Mere possession of small amounts of marijuana was an entirely nonviolent, victimless offense. One pillar of criminal justice reform is clearing the records of people convicted of such crimes so that they can more easily get jobs and otherwise participate fully in their communities.” 
  • “Yes … and make it legal while you’re at it.” 
  • “Yes! I have no convictions, and haven't used pot myself but convictions based on possession for minor amts. can negatively impact one's education and employment prospects for a long, long time.”

No: 16 people were opposed to making it easier to annul marijuana offenses. 

  • “No … It was Illegal when they did it, they knew it was illegal, and they chose to do it anyway, and got caught, so they can live with the consequences.” 
  • “This bill is a waste of time and tax payers money. You can already apply through the Superior Courts in NH and have your records erased. And yes people have had it done.” 
  • “Breaking a law illustrates an individual’s disregard for law and order, and also just shows how bad your judgement is.”

Other: 39 people commented on related questions and issues instead.
These included:

  • Alternative policies: “ALL misdemeanors should be removed from everyone's record after a certain amount of time.” 
  • Ethics of pot smoking: “But drinking is ok?? Booze ruins more lives, families, etc. than pot ever will. Pot heads as you call it are not criminals and some of the most intelligent people. The founders of this nation smoked pot.” 
  • Criminal penalties: “NH should pass a death penalty for any drug dealer selling illegal drugs. We have a severe drug problem and that is the only way to put an end to it.  Anything else is just games raising the price a little.”

*Editor selection of actual participant quotes.

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