NH House passes bill that would help people cleanse pot records

This Monday, May 20, 2019 file photo shows a marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow at Loving Kindness Farms in Gardena, Calif.

This Monday, May 20, 2019 file photo shows a marijuana leaf on a plant at a cannabis grow at Loving Kindness Farms in Gardena, Calif. RICHARD VOGEL/AP file photo


The Keene Sentinel

Published: 03-29-2024 10:29 AM

Modified: 03-29-2024 10:36 AM

The N.H. House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill by Peterborough Rep. Jonah Wheeler that would allow people to expedite the removal of marijuana possession arrests and convictions from their legal records.

Under House Bill 1539, which was passed 283-80, the state Department of Safety would identify people with cannabis violations or misdemeanors, and begin an annulment process. People could request an annulment, which would be granted unless a prosecutor objects and wants a hearing.

Wheeler, a Democrat, said that present law allows people to seek annulments, but few do so because they aren’t aware of the option — it costs $300 and they may have to hire an attorney in order to prevail. People wouldn't have to bear this financial cost if the bill passes, he said.   

Having a marijuana possession conviction on one’s records can stand in the way of getting employment or receiving a loan, Wheeler said in a speech to the House.

“Making sure you can live a full life, that’s what HB 1539 is,” he said.

Another bill pending in the Legislature would legalize the sale and possession of marijuana in New Hampshire.

“It’s a little hypocritical for us to be discussing the sale of cannabis at the same time as there are people who aren’t able to get a hearing because they cannot meet the $300 payment or they aren’t aware of the eligibility of the process now,” Wheeler said.

HB 1539 would also allow people to seek to have their cannabis conviction sentences reduced. 

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Rep. Jennifer Rhodes, R-Winchester, argued against the bill.

She said it wouldn’t be right to annul records for marijuana possession, which remains illegal. It is far from clear state lawmakers will pass legalization legislation this year, she added. 

Rhodes also objected to the taxpayer costs that would be incurred under the bill.

She said the measure would put the onus on “New Hampshire families to be responsible for the annulment process."

“I find it really hard to believe that any of us should have to pay for somebody else’s annulment hearing — we didn’t do the crime.”  

She said that if lawmakers want to streamline the annulment process for marijuana arrests and convictions, they should include that in cannabis legalization legislation.

The fiscal note on HB 1539 said that it would increase the number of annulment and resentencing hearings, which would come at a cost, but it didn’t contain a dollars-and-cents estimate.

The Senate will eventually consider the measure.