Interviewer: Well, let’s talk about now about possession versus intent to sell charges.
New Hampshire Is One of the Few New England States That Has Yet to Decriminalize Marijuana Possession
David Horan: As I say, marijuana is still illegal in New Hampshire. There is a proposal pending. The House of Representatives with the Live Free or Die Tea Party have voted to decriminalize marijuana. That’s in the House of Representatives.
The State Senate is unlikely to go along but if they do go along, Governor Hassan has announced that she’s going to veto the decriminalize marijuana proposal. That makes New Hampshire unique in that Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maine all have statutes that do not have criminal charges possession of marijuana.
In Massachusetts, they had a proposition on the ballot a couple of years ago and the citizens in Massachusetts voted to decriminalize marijuana. If a person is found to be in possession of marijuana, the police will take the marijuana away.
If they are so inclined, they will give the person a ticket for illegal possession of marijuana, for which there’s a $100 fine. People do not get charged with criminal offenses and can resolve the tickets by paying the $100 fine and not going to court.
Fines for Marijuana Possession Can Range from $350 to $2,000 in New Hampshire; Some Charges May Be Subject to a Jail Sentence
A short distance away here in New Hampshire, for example, I’m in Manchester, which is 20 miles from the border. Possession of marijuana is a misdemeanor offense. The police could charge it as a Class A misdemeanor, which would expose the client to a $2,000 fine, possible a year in jail and possible year probation.
The minimum fine for drug offenses is $350 in all drug offenses or the police could charge it as a Class B misdemeanor. That would entail a possible fine of $1200 but with no possible jail sentence. No possible jail means there is no jury trial, no appeal to Superior Court. No possible jail also means the defendant cannot have a court appointed lawyer.
The Collateral Consequences of a Drug-Related Conviction Include Limiting Employment Opportunities
There are collateral consequences of a possession of marijuana conviction. First, the person becomes a convicted criminal which for a young person would have a serious impact on their career. Many employers will not hire people with criminal records, but also has a dramatic effect with respect to students.
If a person is in college and is receiving federal student aid in the form of federal student loans, marijuana conviction will disqualify them from receiving assistance for a year. For working class family students, losing the financial aid will effectively knock the young person out of college. That would have a horrific collateral consequence of sidetracking their career and might very well end up relegating them at least for the next several years into the economic underclass.
Possession with Intent to Sell Is a More Serious Charge and May Be Charges as a Felony
Possession with intent is a substantially more serious charge. Possession of controlled drugs with intent to sell is a felony depending upon which drug it is and depending upon the volume of drugs involved. The penalties could include incarceration sentences of three years, seven years or it could be up to 15 years.
It’s a case that would be heard in the Superior Court. Superior Court is where jury trials take place. That’s where you’ll see teams of full-time lawyers and prosecution teams. That’s also the venue where people could end up being incarcerated for up to a year in the County House of Correction or in the State Prison, if convicted.
Interviewer: To clarify, as far as the decriminalization of marijuana, has that been overturned?
The Governor of New Hampshire Announced She Plans to Veto Any Bill Decriminalizing Marijuana
David Horan: In New Hampshire there is a statute pending before the legislature. The proposed statute to decriminalize marijuana has passed the House of Representatives and has been sent upstairs to the State Senate for their consideration.
A variety of individuals are now awaiting the State Senate’s vote to see if, in fact, it passes both houses of the legislature and then if it does, it goes to Governor Hassan. She’s announced that she’s opposed and will veto.
Interviewer: How will it affect cases that are pending?
David Horan: That’s a good question. Technically from a legal point of view, it won’t affect the cases that are pending. But from the point of view of the prosecutors making decisions to go forward full steam ahead and to look for jail sentences—I would expect if they were to decriminalize marijuana—the prosecutors would not be particularly interested in spending much time prosecuting marijuana cases.
Once they know that marijuana possession is not going to be a crime anymore, they will turn their attention to other cases to do of more importance, ones that are more worthy of their time.