Editorial: Legalize pot? What’s the rush?
Should New Hampshire legalize marijuana for recreational use? Until now, the question has seemed like an idle one. But with a recent poll showing a majority of residents approve of the idea and with a vote this month by the New Hampshire House in favor of such a measure, the matter has seemingly gained new urgency.
Our view is this: Why rush?
In the past, the consequences of legalization, pro and con, were all hypothetical. Activists on both sides of the matter could predict with passion what legalization would mean for crime and incarceration rates, for public health, for children, for the economy or for state revenue, but they were really making just educated guesses. Today, with the advent of legalization in Colorado and Washington state, we have two real-life experiments from which to learn.
And there is much to consider:
If New Hampshire legalized marijuana, what sort of state regulations would be required – for growers, for commercial sellers, for users? Could marijuana be grown outdoors on farms – or only discreetly inside? Would the government test the product for purity? Would there be limits on legal potency? Would there be limits on the size of purchases?
Would the state impose restrictions on advertising? Would communities be allowed to ban marijuana shops? Could they impose anti-pot zoning ordinances in particular parts of town? Could landlords ban it from their apartments? Would residents be allowed to smoke in public?
Would the state’s colleges and universities allow students over 21 to smoke on campus? (In Colorado, the answer is no.)
Could employees be fired for having pot in their systems? And what would happen to those currently serving time for selling marijuana?
What would legalized marijuana do to public health: Would drug use go up among adults? Would children be more apt to try it as pot became normalized in society? Would it increase the use of harder drugs? Would there be more addiction? More impaired drivers on the road? How would the state and schools encourage kids to stay away from drugs amid the hype?
Conversely, would crime go down? Would the state save money if it no longer had to police the marijuana industry? Would tourism increase, as it seems to have – at least initially – in Colorado? Would the same rules govern residents and visitors alike?
Could a hefty state marijuana tax produce significant revenue for the government? And how would the state figure out how high to set it? Too high, and pot might become so expensive that an illicit market is created – just what advocates of legalization are trying to avoid. Too low, and the state risks losing out on a potentially important source of cash.
The Obama administration has made clear it’s taking a hands-off policy in Colorado and Washington state. But what if a new administration feels differently? Would New Hampshire run some risk of legalizing pot and then running afoul of the federal government?
Those who successfully lobbied the state to approve the use of medical marijuana in New Hampshire had a strong argument about doing so quickly: Medical patients, some near the end of their lives, were in great pain and believed that using marijuana would help them – right away.
In the case of recreational use, however, there is a strong argument for patience. It’s quite possible that officials and residents in Colorado and Washington will want to refine the systems they have created in the coming months and years. It’s possible that some of their initial hopes and fears will be contradicted by real-life experience.
New Hampshire legislators on both sides of this issue should pay close attention to the states out west and keep an open mind. In this case, it’s more important to get it right than to get there fast.