New Hampshire Neighbors Approve Recreational Marijuana Legislation

Nov 14, 2016

Four out of five states with ballot measures this year to legalize recreational marijuana did so, including our neighbors Maine and Massachusetts. We find out what this might mean for similar efforts in New Hampshire, and the impact on federal laws.


GUESTS:

  • Karmen Hanson - Program Manager at the National Conference of State Legislatures.
  • Susan Sharon -  Deputy news director for Maine Public.
  • Martha Bebinger - Covers health care for WBUR, and is the creator of HealthCareSavvy.

Recreational marijuana use was approved in four new states last week, including New Hampshire neighbors Massachusetts and Maine. Eight states and the District of Columbia now permit the sale and consumption of marijuana for adult use, which impacts roughly 20 to 25 percent of the population, according to Karmen Hanson, of NCSL. 

In Maine, proponents of the ballot measure include small, rural farms that benefited from medical marijuana legislation several years ago.  Susan Sharon, of Maine Public, says several factors contributed to a very close vote.

For one thing, we have a strong medical marijuana industry in Maine. We were one of the first states to legalize medicinal marijuana... When [local growers] finally came out into the light, and got legit, and had licenses and patients and could make some money from it, they were very happy.

Despite the state's success with medicinal marijuana, the ballot measure passed by fewer than 5000 votes, and opponents, including small businesses and police, are pushing for a recount.   

There was this weird divide [between] people who work in the marijuana industry and those who don't, about a fear that big marijuana might Bigfoot them and take over. But then there were also the usual concerns, a lot of concerns, about impaired driving from law enforcement.

In Massachusetts, the ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana passed by a much larger margin than in Maine,  says Martha Bebinger, of WBUR Boston.  Many people felt that this was a natural progression.

We've had medical marijuana in place, it was passed in 2012. We decriminalized marijuana in 2008. Many people saw this as a civil rights issue, feeling that marijuana is a way that police may stop and frisk more people, [including] minorities. Many people thought we should be taking advantage of the potential tax revenue.

The opponents of the measure, Bebinger says, are concerned about driving under the influence and police enforcement, similar to opponents in Maine. She also says: 

We have many people who worry about the health effects...there just isn't enough information about the long term effects of marijuana as a recreational substance in society.

Hanson acknowledges that in states where recreational use is already legal, law enforcement still has difficulty enforcing safe driving and consumption, and that in some cases, it can take several hours to weeks after a traffic stop to get results of a drug test. 

What if counties or cities want to prohibit marijuana sales? Hanson says that in Colorado, where she lives, and where recreational marijuana has been legal for several years, many municipalities do not permit sale. 

60 percent, roughly, of Colorado communities do not allow for adult use retail or commercial production within their jurisdiction.

Sharon and Bebinger both say that Maine and Massachusetts counties will be able to control stores, licensing permits, and prohibit sales in municipalities, through voting at local hearings. 

Exchange listener Kathy wanted to know if recreational marijuana might impact ski tourism, either by encouraging more people to travel to Maine, or by pushing those who want to avoid marijuana into New Hampshire. Hanson says that the skiing industry has not been significantly impacted in Colorado.

Exchange listener Bill wanted to know if legal recreational marijuana might lower the use of opioids and potentially help alleviate the opioid crisis, as marijuana can help with conditions such as chronic pain, with lower risk of addiction. Hanson says:

They are kind of two separate issues...you will see a few groups that have looked into this issue and they have shown in a few studies that states that have medical marijuana programs may have a slightly lower rate of overdose deaths due to opioid deaths. However, it may not be statistically significant.

You can read more of Martha Bebinger's reporting in Massachuesetts here. Check out Maine Public's series on marijuana, "High Stakes." You can find coverage by Karmen Hanson here