My Turn: It’s time to legalize marijuana
Far be it from me to ever suggest that we should legislate based on opinion polls.
However, those who find it equally clear that we do not legislate in a vacuum will serve the people of New Hampshire well by taking a look at how the numbers have completely turned around when it comes to legalization of marijuana.
When I spoke on the House floor four years ago in favor of gay marriage, I alluded to the biblical admonition “To everything there is a season.” Even as we observe that Hawaii became the 16th state to legalize gay marriage last week, we can look with pride and recall how New Hampshire was the first state in the country to legalize gay marriage without being urged to do so by the courts.
In January, New Hampshire will again be graced with the opportunity to reassert its first-in-the-nation status. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana last year, but in both cases, it was by referendum. Voters spoke quite clearly, by 55 to 45 percent margins in both states, that it’s time to stop wasting millions of taxpayer dollars trying to enforce a ban which cannot and should not be enforced.
Rather than throw taxpayer money away and put people in jail for indulging in a substance far more benign than either alcohol or cigarettes, we should legalize, regulate and tax marijuana with a benefit to state coffers of somewhere between $20 million and $30 million a year.
Ours is not a referendum state, but by passing House Bill 492 the New Hampshire House has a chance to make history by becoming the first legislative body in the nation to move in this direction. The Criminal Justice Committee voted 11-7 against the bill but, mind you, that’s the same committee that was overturned by a huge margin on the House floor earlier this year after voting against a simple decriminalization bill.
Gone are the days when legislators had to fear being thrown out of office if they even dared think of legalization.
Back in 2000 when I introduced a medical marijuana bill, no one took it seriously. It received barely more than 100 votes on the House floor. Earlier this year, support for medical marijuana was so overwhelming that it passed without debate on the floor and by such a wide margin that those of us in favor were the ones calling for a recorded vote.
To everything there is a season.
Back in 1968 when Gallup began polling the question of marijuana legalization, only 12 percent expressed support. The latest Gallup poll shows approval and not just by a few points but by the overwhelming margin of 58-39 percent.
A recent University of New Hampshire poll shows even more overwhelming support for House Bill 492, 60-36 percent.
Even those who cling to the nanny-state mentality that government must exist to prevent us from hurting ourselves, an outmoded notion if ever there was one, have difficulty justifying just where to draw the line and are faced with an increasing body of evidence that while marijuana may not be good for you, it is certainly less harmful than many other substances which are perfectly legal and have led to the deaths of millions of people.
In fact, a recent New York Times editorial points to evidence showing that were marijuana to be legalized, fewer people would resort to alcohol, which is, in fact, a real killer.
I should know. My mother died 25 years ago of liver and colon cancer after a lifetime of abusing her body by using alcohol and cigarettes.
Had marijuana been legal then, perhaps she would have changed her drug of preference and still be alive today.
Those who insist that legalization will promote use of this evil weed need only look to the Netherlands where marijuana has been legal (or at least quasi-legal) for decades but where a smaller percentage indulge than here in our country which continues to operate under a “reefer madness” mentality.
In a few weeks I will turn 62 and have chosen to take Social Security benefits early because I don’t expect to live all that long. You see, I admit to being a saltoholic; even with proper medication, my blood pressure is sky high, but I continue to coat my food with salt before I eat it.
That’s my choice. Others abuse their bodies and become obese indulging in too much sugar or chocolate.
That’s their choice. Government should no more tell me I can’t smoke a few joints, lest I hurt myself, than it should ban sugar, salt or chocolate which are favorites of hundreds of millions of Americans.
By legalizing marijuana, we encourage no one to use it any more than I am encouraged to use salt simply because it’s legal.
To everything there is a season, and the season for a sane approach to marijuana laws is upon us.
(State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt is a Republican from Manchester.)