Those hoping for the legalization of marijuana in New Hampshire now say they have momentum on their side, coming from several different directions. First, after years of defeats, supporters saw their first real victory in the Granite State last year when medicinal pot was voted into law. Second, marijuana legalization has now passed in two states, Colorado and Washington. And third, a new legalization bill this year passed the house by a slim margin. But it’s not all good news for supporters, the senate is a tough sell on the issue, and the governor promises her veto if it reaches her desk, and then there are opponents from law enforcement to substance abuse counselors who are speaking out as well warning of the many dangers that pot already posses and it legalized could only create more problems.
- Kevin Sabet - director of the Institute on Drug Policy, and assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Medicine. He also co-founded Project SAM, which supports a health-first approach to marijuana policy.
- Matt Simon - New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, which focuses on removing criminal penalties for marijuana use.
- Kevin Sabet will be presenting at an event later today at the NH Institute of Politics called "A Smart Approach to Marijuana: Where Do We Go From Here?"
- NHPR's digital journalist, Brian Wallstin, put together a primer about legalizing marijuana
- Kevin Sabet: Taxing marijuana doesn’t make it safer. In fact, legalization would make it cheaper, which would increase use. A New Futures report showed that for alcohol in New Hampshire, every dollar gained by the state revenue resulted in $10 on social costs. Legalization would also lead to increased law enforcement costs.
- Matt Simon: New Hampshire residents spend $150 million on marijuana every year. That money is untaxed and leaves the New Hampshire economy, going instead to Mexico, Canada, and U.S. organized crime. Regulating and taxing it makes it safer, and also benefits the economy. Marijuana is already readily available, and here to stay: the only thing we can control is who sells it, where it comes from, and who can buy it.
- Kevin Sabet: Marijuana has many health costs: harm to lungs and IQ, there are links to mental illness, it’s just as addictive as alcohol for youths, it impairs driving, and hard drug users generally started with marijuana. Treatment capacity for marijuana dependence in the NH is already much too low.
- Matt Simon: Science says that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol: no one has ever overdosed, it’s less addictive than alcohol, it has a less pronounced effect on driving, and there is no association with violence. With honest education about the risks to adolescents (even in the context of legalization), use for teens could decrease from current levels (like tobacco). Marijuana is not a gateway to other harder drugs because of its psychological effects, but its status in the market: the same people sell both, and expose teens. It has even been shown to reduce suicides among young male users.
Decriminalization vs legalization
- Kevin Sabet: Most people agree that we shouldn’t imprison low level marijuana users. However, it’s entirely different to authorize retail sales, and unleash the drug to commercial forces. Cartels only make tiny percentage of profits from marijuana, and the black market for marijuana is almost entirely nonviolent. Legalization would give kids the impression that marijuana is harmless.
- Matt Simon: What we’re doing isn’t working: marijuana is readily available in high schools and colleges, with 80% of kids reporting that it is easy to obtain. Legalization would allow regulation to ensure that marijuana is safer, taxed, sold only to adults, and doesn’t support crime/cartels.
- Kevin Sabet: Marijuana legalization is funded by special interest lobbies that get their money from huge investors looking to make billions of dollars. Addictive industries do not make money off the casual user, and seek to hook consumers while they’re young. They market to children with candies, edibles, lollipops, brownies.
- Matt Simon: The Marijuana Policy Project approaches the issue from a policy angle, based on science and evidence. Some people seek to gain a profit from marijuana legalization, but that doesn’t take away from the evidence supporting it as a policy decision.