With numerous states facing significant budget cuts, legislators and voters across the United States this month have been giving overwhelming support to measures that would reduce the penalty to a civil fine for possession of small amounts of marijuana.
On Wednesday in New Hampshire
, the state House voted 214-137 to pass HB 1653, a bill the would reduce the penalty for possession of up to a quarter-ounce of marijuana with a civil fine of up to $200.
, the state Senate voted 22-3 to March 2 to pass SB 2450, a bill that would eliminate criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and replace them with a civil fine of up to $300 for a first offense and $500 for subsequent offenses.
|Karen O’Keefe, MPP: “Decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana allows police to focus on more serious crimes”
And in Vermont, 72 percent of voters in Montpelier approved a non-binding ordinance asking the Legislature “to pass a bill to replace criminal penalties with a civil fine for adults who possess a small amount of marijuana.”
“Taken together, these developments demonstrate how an increasing number of voters and lawmakers across the country no longer support the notion that otherwise law-abiding citizens should be arrested, slapped with a criminal record and possibly thrown behind bars, simply for choosing to use a substance that is safer than alcohol,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
“We know from efforts in other states that decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana allows police to focus on more serious crimes and also produces a net financial gain through saved law-enforcement costs and the revenue generated by civil fines,” O’Keefe said. “Lawmakers everywhere should take heed of these examples, especially in these troubled times.”
Currently, 12 states have laws that reduce the penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana to a civil fine. A decriminalization bill in Rhode Island is co-sponsored by 48 percent of House members.