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My Turn: Legalizing marijuana poses a serious risk to public health

As the New Hampshire Legislature prepares, yet again, to consider legislation to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, I am reminded of the quote from H. L. Mencken “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” Although the marijuana legalization issue can be easily stated for an opinion poll, in reality the issue is complex, with significant implications for the public health and safety of New Hampshire residents and our economy. It is time to move beyond rhetoric, simplistic responses, and legislation by poll to a serious policy discussion, supported by current research and data.

New Futures opposes legalization and offers the following information from current research in an effort to jump-start this important discussion.

Addiction: Although marijuana is not as addictive as tobacco or heroin, the addiction rate is one in every 11 adults who has tried it and one in six adolescents who have ever used the substance. Rates of admission to state-funded treatment programs for marijuana addiction continue to rise as potency and use increases.

Increased potency, greater risk: Marijuana potency is measured by its THC content (the chemical component largely responsible for creating the high and increasing the risk of panic attacks). Since 1983, when THC concentrations averaged below 4 percent, marijuana potency has increased significantly as growers began to breed plants for increased potency and profit. Potency now exceeds an average of 10 percent, with many samples in the 10-25 percent range. Translated into alcohol terms, such an increase in intoxication potential would represent the difference between drinking a beer and taking multiple shots of vodka.

Youth access: New Hampshire’s youth and young adults have some of the highest rates of marijuana use in the country. In 2011, 28.4 percent of high school students reported using marijuana one or more times in the last 30 days. Because legalization will increase access and convey the message that use is without risk, youth use will increase. The negative impact of chronic marijuana use during adolescence and early adulthood – a time of ongoing brain development – is well documented and includes cognitive impairment of six to eight IQ points, which continues into adulthood. Chronic marijuana use also increases the risk of experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia.

Commercial marijuana enterprise: Legalization would likely give rise to an active commercial network of growers, manufacturers, distributors and retail establishments, all operating with a profit motive and the incentive to increase consumption by advertising to create new users and maintain heavy users. Think Big Tobacco and corporate enterprise – it should come as no surprise that Altria, the new name of tobacco giant Philip Morris, recently purchased the domain names of and or that investment firms are actively exploring marijuana business opportunities.

Price goes down, use goes up: Legalization will result in lower prices and increased use by both recreational and heavy users. When a product is legal more people will use it – think tobacco and alcohol.

Social costs of legalization will exceed revenue: Without information about such factors as taxation levels and regulatory structure, revenue analysis is difficult. However from our experience with alcohol and tobacco we know that the public health and safety, and economic costs of legalizing marijuana will far exceed any additional tax revenue. In 2012, when the New Hampshire general fund received $140 million from the sale of alcohol, the cost of excessive alcohol consumption in New Hampshire was $1.15 billion. Also in 2012, New Hampshire ranked 49th out of 50 states in state funding for alcohol and other drug treatment.

Why now? Why wouldn’t New Hampshire wait to make the momentous decision to legalize marijuana until after it had completed implementation of the therapeutic cannabis law that passed in 2013 and is able to observe the implementation of the programs in Colorado and Washington?

(Tricia Lucas is advocacy director of New Futures, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reduce alcohol and other drug problems in New Hampshire through education, advocacy and collaboration.)

Legacy Comments11

In what universe will legalizing change public health when cannabis is EVERYWHERE already?

Guess we'll have to re-distribute "Reefer Madness" again. Remind me, we are not still in the 70's are we. Hunter as far as big govt wanting to regulate and control everything, there is nothing liberal about NH in this area, they want to control it for income just as they have done with alcohol for at least half a century.

Public Health and Safety is at more risk by keeping it illegal. Whether legal or not, people are buying, selling and using marijuana. Keeping it illegal puts those people in more dangerous situations, ie buying a bag of pot from the gun carrying, gang-banger in the alley downtown, in the middle of the night, just to sight one potential example. Making pot legal is not going to make more people smoke it. It will just make it safer to obtain. People I know aren't going to smoke more pot just because it's legal. And people I know who don't smoke pot aren't going to start just because it is legal. That's the stupidest argument I've heard. People, young and old, have access no matter what. If you regulate it just like cigarettes (which are much more harmful and addictive), and only selling in liquor stores, you can at least take out some of the danger factor in access. Then there is the whole issue of Medical Marijuana. Many good people are suffering or choosing highly addictive, dangerous and mind-altering narcotics because they do not have access to a much safer and better alternative. Homeopathic medicine has been around for centuries, and pot should fall into that category. And, finally, as mentioned, too many good, hard working people are in jail, wasting much needed tax-payer resources, because they got caught buying that bag of pot they may replenish every 6 months. Legalize it already and find a better for all those wasted resource.

Oh I love it when these stories come out, and I stay stories in the most strict of definitions, because they're exactly that; stories. "Addiction: Although marijuana is not as addictive as tobacco or heroin, the addiction rate is one in every 11 adults who has tried it and one in six adolescents who have ever used the substance. " What about alcohol? That kills more people than crack, coke and heroin combined every year, but that noxious poison continues to flow. Also your little addiction schpeel is hilarious, like the above comment says, these are not statistics you can rely on, these are teens and young people who are forced into treatment for something they don't need treated. A network of growers who want to push consumption? Good, the more people using cannabis and not alcohol, the more lives will be saved. If someone is seriously worried about their health they can vaporize or eat their cannabis with almost no health risks at all. I'm sorry the author has been pulled into the drug war propaganda, alcohol and tobacco are destroying lives while cannabis is saving them. If you had any real world experience or read any of the medical journals praising cannabis for its healing properties, you might change your tune. Probably not. Go have a few drinks and drive home.

Rob, I am not sure what you mean by your "proving it is harmful" comment, but harmful it is. Only serious potheads deny this. Medical science clearly shows the health risks of smoking the stuff. Many people can't handle the stuff, and basically become non-productive geraniums when they smoke it every day. The various types of harm are all well proven, just as it is with booze. Weighing the pros and cons, I still think they should legalize it, which by no means demonstrates my support for it's use in so called recreation.

Ever been in rehab for alcohol or opiate addiction. Those addicts laugh at potheads. All intoxicants cause some harm but marijuana is less harmful. Please don't bring up those biased and outdated "studies" by NIDA which are pure propaganda. The biggest harm caused by marijuana stems from its prohibition. I smoked pot for 10 years then quit due to drug testing at work, I knew plenty of chronic marijuana users who are motivated and well paid workers and business owners. Those geraniums you mention would still be geraniums if pot wasn't in the picture they would just blame it on something else.

"Rates of admission to state-funded treatment programs for marijuana addiction continue to rise as potency and use increases. " I hate it when people try to use rehab statistics for marijuana to prove its harmful. Most of those numbers are teens and young adults forced into treatment programs by judges, schools, employers or parents. The alternative is getting put in jail, being fired, getting kicked out of school or their homes. Of course they go into treatment when given those options.

No really good answer, is there? Legalize it already. Tax it. Legal or not, there is a public health risk. There are a lot of prisoners across the country who should be released. This ridiculous war on simple possession and consumption of pot needs to end, the sooner the better.

Get a life.

The social costs of legalization will be less than the law enforcement costs we face now. Hire more cop$, build more pri$ion$. Didn't these people ever study history in grade school? Prohibition does not work. We learned that about alcohol, why can't we learn it about mary jane? Tax it and sell it in the $tate liquor $tore$.

You heard it here first . . . thecrank is a big govt. liberal who wants to regulate and control everything.

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