After President Joe Biden announced pardons for federal marijuana-possession convictions Thursday, New Hampshire defense attorneys and criminal justice reform advocates said they hope to see state policy move in a similar direction.
The direct impact of the pardons will likely be limited in New Hampshire. Federal prosecutions for simple marijuana possession are rare, with most convictions coming in state court.
“Probably more important is the signal that it sends to state and local authorities that people really should not be deprived of employment opportunities and other opportunities because of a marijuana conviction,” said Richard Guerriero, a Keene-based defense attorney.
New Hampshire decriminalized small amounts of marijuana in 2017, though it remains illegal. Prior to that, several thousand people were arrested each year in the state for simple marijuana possession — a disproportionate number of them Black. National data shows white and Black Americans use marijana at roughly similar rates.
Emma Sisti, manager of the pro bono department at 603 Legal Aid and a former public defender, said those convictions have lasting impacts.
“People didn’t get student loans because of these charges,” she said. “People lost their housing. People can’t get jobs because of these charges.”