My Turn: In no way does legalizing marijuana serve the public interest

For the Monitor
Published: 3/2/2019 12:10:05 AM

The issue of legalizing marijuana use is not new. Discussions, indeed arguments, have been going on for decades. This session, however, our elected officials will determine whether New Hampshire, through House Bill 481, will sanction the production, marketing, distribution, sale and use of a psychoactive (mind altering) drug for recreational purposes. I urge all our legislators to not accept the use of a psychoactive drug as the new norm.

It is suggested by the proposed legislation that passage of HB 481 will allow law enforcement to “focus on violent and property crimes.” This finding, if adopted, will set a precedent that we, as a society, are willing to negate legitimate public safety interests just because we are no longer willing to address them as the public safety issue that they are – no matter the result.

The language in the “Purpose and Findings” section of the bill concedes the point that marijuana offenses are crimes and we, as a state, are no longer willing to confront this criminal behavior only because it is difficult. This position by the Legislature is clearly in opposition to the position of the leaders of our law enforcement community – including the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police.

On Feb. 4, a newspaper article indicated that our New Hampshire law enforcement officials are taking a “stand against legalization of marijuana.” I believe that I am on safe ground when I say that our law enforcement community is able to enforce laws against marijuana as well as those involving “violent and property crimes” and that the legislative finding that suggests we must subjugate one law (against marijuana) to enforce other laws is without merit.

This bill also “finds” that there is an “interest” in “generating revenue” for use by the state. It should concern all the citizens of New Hampshire that our Legislature is willing to accept widespread sale and use of a mind-altering drug to generate revenue. The siren song of more revenue should not come at the high risk of endangering our youth and our communities. It should concern us, too, that there is no solid estimate of how much revenue could be raised and whether the revenue raised would offset the increased costs for regulation and enforcement.

The Monitor recently gave a range of $15.3 million to $58 million in annual revenue. Accordingly, one can estimate that as little as $5 million could wind up in the state’s general fund – an amount, in my estimation, that would probably not cover the costs of administrative regulation and enforcement.

The most troubling part of the “Purpose and Findings” within HB 481 states that it is in the “interest of the health and public safety of our citizenry” to regulate marijuana as is done with alcohol. Let me present some highlights from other states, where marijuana legalization has gone awry, to address the health and public safety issues that should concern all residents of New Hampshire. These statistics clearly put aside any belief that marijuana is safe and reinforce that the health and safety of our state mandates that marijuana continue to be a prohibited psychoactive drug.

■69 percent of marijuana users in Colorado admit to driving high. (Colorado DOT, April 2018)

■55 percent of marijuana users in Colorado believe it is “safe to drive under the influence of marijuana” and have done so an average of 12 times in the last month. (Summit Daily News, Nov. 12, 2017)

■57 percent of marijuana users in Colorado admit driving within two hours of smoking marijuana. (KDVR Fox 31, March 19, 2017)

■Drivers killed in crashes are more likely to be on drugs than alcohol. (Melanie Zanona, 2017)

■Traffic deaths increased dramatically after legalization of marijuana in Colorado. (Colorado DOT, 2017)

■Of drivers testing positive for substances, more than one-third tested positive for marijuana. (Colorado DOT, 2017)

■Use of marijuana in Colorado by those 12 years old and older is third in the nation and 85 percent higher than the national average. (Rocky Mountain HIDTA Report, September 2018)

■In looking at two three-year periods in Colorado – one period before legalization of marijuana and one period afterward – adult marijuana use increased 67 percent (and was 110 percent higher than the national average) and college-age marijuana use increased 18 percent (and was 60 percent higher than the national average). (Rocky Mountain HIDTA Report, September 2018)

■In grade 12, fully half of high school age students in Colorado have used marijuana once and almost 30 percent have used it within the last 30 days. (Healthy Kids Colorado Survey in HIDTA Report, September 2018)

■In grade eight, almost 1 in 10 students in Colorado are reported to currently use marijuana. (Healthy Kids Colorado Survey in HIDTA Report, September 2018)

■48 percent of polled workers in Colorado reported that they have gone to work while high and 39 percent reported that they go to work high once per week. (Michael Roberts, Jan. 29, 2018)

■The yearly rate of marijuana-related hospitalizations in Colorado increased 148 percent after legalization. (Rocky Mountain HIDTA Report, September 2018)

■17 percent of those who start to use marijuana in adolescence become addicted. (Tribune News Service, June 24, 2018)

■Dr. Rav Ivker, a doctor who uses marijuana for treatment of chronic pain, believes that marijuana concentrates (such as wax) have no benefit, are used just for getting high and should be illegal. (High Times, July 5, 2018)

■Habitual smokers of marijuana can develop ailments that are difficult to control, such as cannabinoid hyperemesis (a.k.a. “cyclic vomiting syndrome”). (California Healthline, Dec. 7, 2017)

■Mothers who are breastfeeding can transmit a small percentage of the drug to their nursing child. (Healthday Reporter, April 9, 2018)

■Research published within the Journal of Addiction Research and Therapy concludes that marijuana is as “highly addicting, harmful and dangerous as other drugs of addiction.” The article summary also addresses the identification of cannabis use disorders within the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Fifth Edition (DSM-5). (JART, Jan. 16, 2017)

There are many additional considerations that I believe will be raised by others who oppose HB 481. Those dangers include lung damage from smoking, children ingesting potent and dangerous edible products, and an increase in mental health issues, especially within the late teens and early twenties population.

I hope our citizens will listen closely and join me in urging all our elected officials that HB 481 should not become law. It is clear that the public interest is not served by passage of HB 481. No law enforcement need is met, no public purpose advanced and no health issue abated. The cost to our state will, in all probability, exceed any reasonably foreseeable increase in revenue. The threat to the health of our children will be increased and the general public would be at greater threat of injury. Legalizing marijuana is not the New Hampshire way.

(Paul Halvorsen has practiced criminal law, as a defense attorney and prosecutor, for more than 18 years. His comments here are his own and not that of his employer.)

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