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New law drops drug charges for less than .75 ounces of pot

In a matter of weeks, marijuana possession of three-quarters of an ounce or less will be a violation instead of a crime in New Hampshire. There is some consternation among law enforcement agencies regarding the task of distinguishing the weight of the pot possessed for purposes of knowing whether to file drug charges or a violation. Common sense dictates that the only certain way would be for officers in the field to carry weight machines around with them.

House Bill 640 reduces the penalty for that amount, and for 5 grams or less of hashish, to a violation that carries no criminal penalties or criminal record. A violation will provide for a fine, which may be compared to receiving a parking or traffic ticket with no criminal stigma. It is not worth debating how the legislators came upon the .75 ounce formula, or whether it is a just or wise cutoff point. A lot of grief can still be associated with having a slight bit more than the legal amount, including arrest, incarceration and a permanent criminal record.

Or, will officers liberally allow anything appearing to be an ounce or less to be treated as a violation? That seems unlikely, given the harsh treatment of even small amounts of marijuana in the past. Consistent with that prior unforgiving bias, violators will have to surrender their pot if they are caught. The fine for a first or second offense is $100, escalating to $300 thereafter.

Other remnants of the ingrained fear of pot in New Hampshire remain in the law. The fine for a single conviction within three years will be waived, but only if the person has completed a substance abuse assessment. The basic view that marijuana is a dangerous drug does not get fully purged from this ambivalent law. Instead, three or more convictions within a three-year period makes the fourth offense a class B criminal misdemeanor, and the basis for oppressive drug charges, just as in the past.  

Source: unionleader.com, "Eased marijuana laws put cops on spot", Shawne K. Wickham, July 30, 2017

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