My Turn: Marijuana legalization opens the wrong door

For the Monitor
Published: 2/24/2022 7:00:36 AM
Modified: 2/24/2022 7:00:11 AM

A debate on marijuana legalization was held in a recent House session, and HB 1598 passed 235 to 119. This bill will now go to the House Ways and Means Committee, back to the House for a final vote, and then to the Senate. There are many aspects of this bill that deserve closer attention.

The bill proposes marijuana legalization despite nearly ten years’ worth of data from other states which document how legalization has led to significant increases in underage marijuana use, marijuana-related traffic deaths, child welfare caseloads, and the number infants being born with THC present in their bloodstream. The negative consequences have been so damaging in Colorado that the governor recently signed a landmark reform bill to reign in the most harmful aspects of their marijuana laws. At the very least, every New Hampshire legislator should closely examine these reforms before making any decisions on legalization.

In addition, concerns about high-concentrate marijuana have been documented for decades. We now have the hindsight of many longitudinal studies which show a verifiable increase in addiction and psychosis among heavy marijuana users. Another issue is the relationship between opioid abuse and marijuana usage, as detailed in a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. This documents how marijuana use is linked to increased occurrences of new-onset opioid use and opioid use disorder.

It is important to note that in Nashua and Manchester, drug overdose totals during the end of 2021 increased by 110% when compared to the same period in 2020. Given this startling trend, and New Hampshire’s tragic history of being a state hit hardest by the opioid epidemic, it is unconscionable that legislation is now being proposed which will make this situation worse. In addition, this bill proposes a $25 million fund to treat drug addiction. Sadly, it will help mitigate a problem we ourselves make worse with this legislation.

Another intent of HB 1598 is the state-sanctioned distribution, selling, and profiteering of marijuana, which no other state has done so far. According to the Criminal Justice Committee Majority Report, this bill “…allows consumers to purchase a clean, superior tax- free product at a consumer friendly price that is competitive with the black market.” Surely New Hampshire can have better goals than to be competitive with the black market. 

This bill also appropriate$14 million of taxpayer money for start-up costs so the NH Liquor Commission can manage 10 state-run retail outlets. This commission also estimates an additional $5 million will be needed annually for operating costs, salaries and benefits for 70 state employees.

After the bill was introduced in committee, a lengthy amendment was added and it passed in executive session with no public comment. This amendment contingently appropriates $10 million to establish and operate a bank so New Hampshire can process the anticipated windfall of marijuana profit. The goal is to navigate around federal laws that prohibit banks from accepting money garnered through the sale of a federally-illegal drug.

It is noteworthy to mention that the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network guidelines still affirm that any bank used to process cash from marijuana sales remains subject to prosecution regardless of state law. In addition, the amendment states that the board of directors for this bank “shall consist solely of the executive director of the business finance authority, the attorney general of the state, and the state treasurer.” Is this really a good look for our state to have the state’s chief law enforcement officer and the state’s chief banker sitting on the board of a private marijuana bank?

We must ask ourselves, do we really want to legalize a drug that we know will result in more harm to our most vulnerable citizens, and empower state agencies to essentially act as a cartel, a drug dealer, and a money launderer?

If we think we should legalize because some say “it’s inevitable” then we are ceding control of the issue and ignoring the negative consequences already demonstrated in other states.

If we think we should legalize and manage the sales ourselves because it will put more money in the state’s general fund, then we should examine the actual budget revenues in other legalized states. In reality, we will discover that marijuana revenues are never enough to pay for the societal ills caused by this drug’s use.

Finally, do we really believe that legalizing marijuana will put an end to this discussion? No, it won’t. When your main selling point for a drug policy is the promise of untold millions being put to use for school funding and property tax relief, despite the documented harmful effects on vulnerable populations, then it merely paves the way for the legalization of other drugs if the profit margins are attractive.

Make no mistake, HB 1598 opens the door to a whole new discussion.

(Sue Homola of Hollis is a state representative, D27, Hillsborough County.)

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