Celebrating 5-year ‘cannaversary’

  • Matt Simon is the director of public and government relations for Prime ATC of New Hampshire, which operates the Chichester dispensary. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Matt Simon, director of public and government relations for Prime ATC of New Hampshire, which operates the Chichester dispensary, sits in the dunk tank they have for the Cannaversary event from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. This marks five years of service that began medicinal marijuana. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor columnist
Published: 8/27/2021 5:47:00 PM

Matt Simon, once a nerdy college freshman who poked fun at his friends for smoking pot, has led the charge in New Hampshire to change the state’s marijuana laws.

He wore ties and an orange badge as a State House lobbyist for the Marijuana Policy Project as he spoke eloquently about its misery-reducing benefits to committee after committee, after committee.

Little by little, year after year, more lawmakers listened and made marijuana legal for medicinal uses five years ago. New Hampshire also decriminalized the possession of small amounts of pot but is surrounded by other states that have fully legalized it.  

It is a change worth celebrating. On Saturday at Chichester’s Prime Alternative Treatment Center on Dover Street, Simon and his new boss, Keenan Blum, will be hosting a “cannaversary,” marking five years since medicinal weed emerged from the rigidity of the State Senate and was sold, legally, to those who qualified.

Simon has taken a new job as the director of public and government relations for Prime ATC of New Hampshire, which operates the Chichester dispensary and another in Merrimack. Saturday’s party, celebrating five years since Prime opened its doors, will run from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with pizza, music and educational materials available. Simon and Blum, the CEO, will take turns sitting atop a dunk tank.

New Hampshire’s medical marijuana industry hasn’t done a good job putting people at ease and reaching out to the public. The juvenile-delinquent, will-lead-to-other-drugs tag assigned to pot beginning in the 19th century remains fresh to a lot of people.

“We’ve been good neighbors, and there was some criticism years before,” said Simon, who lives in Manchester. “We do not do a good job of telling people who we are and what we do. You can talk to the production staff and it’s an opportunity to show the public that this is a responsible program serving patients in local communities.”

This is a giant chunk of Simon’s life. At least it morphed into that, during a two-step process.

First, after years of resistance, Simon smoked pot with friends on a camping trip following his freshman year in college. And this only after he had conducted tireless research on what, exactly, pot did to the body. And for the body. And the mind.

Next, there were two of the places Simon lived: He grew up in West Virginia, in a town called Parkersburg. He taught English at a community college in rural Kentucky.

And, in time, he began to hear and read media reports calling oxycontin – which was spreading its death grip at a frightening pace 15 years ago – Hillbilly Heroin.

“There was an epidemic hitting the area,” Simon said. “I got to see the ugly days from the front row, and that further confirmed my philosophical belief that the war on drugs was producing some negative outcomes. That led me down this path.”

He moved to New Hampshire 14 years ago, looking for a little more scenic beauty in his life, along with an entrance into politics. We were perfect.

“Each bill gets a public hearing, and there's the presidential primary,” Simon said. “It was a good place for advocacy. I didn’t think I would do it for this long. It became my life.”

Simon did his homework. He couldn't get past the fact that alcohol was legal, yet pot-smoking led to incarceration. He learned about the benefits that come with smoking weed, the sweet relief it creates when chemo and radiation have stifled appetite and forbade food to stay down, and when pain and spasms caused by multiple sclerosis would not quit.

Next, Simon went out and found those people, those patients, those pot smokers. He brought them to the State House, 15 or 20 at a time. He introduced them, and they told lawmakers how their lives had changed since they turned to pot for help.

“What they had in common was they all had treatment that you couldn’t imagine," Simon said. “They had several surgeries, were given countless medication prescriptions, and they all had the same complaint: The stuff doesn't work consistently, or it has terrible side effects."

Simon kept coming until the law changed. However, some of those patients died before they were ever able to legally smoke marijuana in New Hampshire. 

Saturday's party is for them.

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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