This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 19: New Hampshire.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 20. Ohio; 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. New Hampshire punishes the possession of any amount of marijuana (regardless of how small or how large) with up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of $2,000. However, the New Hampshire state legislator recently enacted a law that would minimize the penalties for possession of less than 5 grams of marijuana. The updated law makes possession of this small amount an unclassified misdemeanor and gives prosecutors and judges more discretion in punishing these offenses. Critics maintain that this bill does not qualify as “decriminalization.”
Possession with intent to sell, or the actual sale of marijuana is punished based on the amount of marijuana involved:
- Less than 1 ounce earns up to 3 years in prison and a maximum fine of $25,000. A subsequent offense earns up to 6 years in prison and a maximum fine of $50,000.
- Between 1 ounce and 5 pounds earns up to 7 years in prison and a maximum fine of $100,000. A subsequent offense earns up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $200,000.
- Over 5 pounds earns up to 20 years in prison and a maximum fine of $300,000. A subsequent offense earns up to 30 years in prison and a maximum fine of $500,000.
Selling cannabis within 1,000 feet of a school results in a doubling of the sentence and fine.
Medical marijuana. In 2013, New Hampshire legalized medical marijuana, but state officials were slow to implement the program. The first dispensary did not open until April 2016. It appears that three dispensaries currently operate in New Hampshire, with another one set to open soon.
Qualifying patients in New Hampshire may possess up to two ounces of useable cannabis. Patients must obtain a certification from a physician and then receive a registration card from the Department of Health and Human Services. A physician or other qualified medical professional must have established a relationship with the patient at least three months before issuing a marijuana recommendation, unless the patient was recently diagnosed with the qualifying condition or the physician is treating the patient specifically for a qualifying condition. New Hampshire created a list of qualifying conditions when it legalized medical marijuana, and the legislature recently added ulcerative colitis to that list. New Hampshire is one of the few medical marijuana states that allows patients with valid registration cards from other states to possess medical marijuana. New Hampshire’s New Hampshire‘s list of qualifying conditions does not include chronic pain.
Bottomline. The “Live Free or Die State” does not live up to its name when it comes cannabis. Selling a small amount of marijuana can result in a lengthy prison sentence. The medical marijuana program is operational, but took years to implement and still leaves many patients without access. “Live free” should include the right of each individual to decide on cannabis for themselves.