A Republican-sponsored bill that aims to lower first-time drug charges from felonies to misdemeanors that advocates say would decrease institutionalized racism in the criminal justice system is facing push back from New Hampshire police.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month, 51 people signed up in support of House Bill 473, which would reclassifying first-time drug offenses that are currently treated as felonies, to misdemeanors. Eighteen signed up against the bill.
The reclassification of first-time drug crimes would be consistent with the state’s broader efforts to reduce stigma around drug treatment and give people a path to a better life, said Representative Erica Layon, a Derry Republican.
This proposal would not affect charges for possession of small amounts of marijuana, which New Hampshire already decriminalized, but the change would be si gnificant for possession of drugs like heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and methamphetamine.
“When you’re a felon, it’s hard to get a home, it’s hard to rent, it’s hard to do so many things when you have a felony conviction on your record,” Layon said. “If we want people to be able to re-enter society after a mistake, this bill is a good opportunity.”
Under the current law in New Hampshire, first-time possession of certain amounts of drugs can be a felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison and a fine of $25,000, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire’s website. In 2021, there were 3,592 total drug arrests and over 87% of those arrests were for possession.