(Craig F. Walker, The Denver Post)

Last New England state to decriminalize weed takes first step

The bill sets a maximum penalty of $300 for three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana

CONCORD, N.H. — Marijuana decriminalization and the addition of chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder to the state’s medical marijuana law are all one step closer to passage after clearing key Senate committees on Tuesday.

The state Senate has resisted such expansions of marijuana laws in recent years, keeping the state apart from its New England neighbors that have more lax marijuana policies. But momentum appears to be behind decriminalization efforts and expansions of the medical marijuana law this year.

Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has said he’s likely to sign a bill removing criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of marijuana, a position his Democratic predecessor, Maggie Hassan, never committed to.

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday greenlighted a compromise decriminalization bill that would remove criminal penalties for possessing up to three-quarters of an ounce (20 grams) of marijuana. That’s down from the 1 ounce (28 grams) in the House-passed bill. The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is against decriminalization and worked with Republican Sen. Jeb Bradley to tighten the bill.

The bill reduces the possible penalty for possessing that small amount of marijuana from a misdemeanor to a violation with a maximum penalty of $300. New Hampshire is the only New England state without a decriminalization law.

Also on Tuesday, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee backed a bill that would add chronic pain and PTSD as qualifying conditions to receive medical marijuana. The state’s medical marijuana dispensaries opened last year.

Both bills still need approval from the full Senate, which will likely take them up next week.