A Third Perspective: It's time to legalize marijuana in New Hampshire

By Ethan Gauvin
On February 14, 2014

On Jan. 1, 2014, thousands of Coloradans eagerly lined up to make their first legal purchase of recreational marijuana. Amendment 64, a ballot measure that passed in 2012 with 55 percent of Colorado voters in favor, legalized the recreational use of marijuana and permits adults aged 21 years or older to purchase up to an ounce of it. The law also places the onus of regulating the manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana on the state government. This unprecedented experiment in governmental regulation of weed is still in its infancy, but all signs are indicating that what's good for pot enthusiasts is good for government-and more than likely good for society.

In the first week of the law's implementation, Colorado marijuana dispensaries witnessed staggering sales. The 37 dispensaries that were able to meet the state's requirements by Jan. 1 made a total of $1 million on the first day and roughly $5 million over the course of the week. Regulators have projected an eye-popping $600 million in marijuana sales for Colorado dispensaries in 2014, $70 million of which the state expects to receive in tax revenue.

A provision in the Colorado ballot measure ensures that the first $40 million collected in taxes will be spent directly on the state's public education system while the remainder will be used regulate marijuana distribution, refocus drug enforcement efforts and revitalize flagging drug awareness programs.

That millions of dollars are now being poured (legally) into Colorado's economy and public schools is well known, but where this money is no longer going deserves greater attention. Illicit drug dealers, suppliers and gangs within and outside of Colorado will see their sales plummet by hundreds of millions of dollars in 2014.

Selling weed is the lifeblood of the vast majority of gangs in America; Colorado's decision to cut off illegitimate cash flows will have a beneficial social impact across the country. Gangs will have less money to spend on weapons and, more poignantly, less to offer potential recruits: teenagers at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who join on the promise of making easy cash.

Consequently, authorities will no longer need to arrest, prosecute and incarcerate as many gang members as they do today, which will save precious resources and preserve a felony-free future for countless young Americans. Extrapolating even further, fewer funds will reach the insidious cartels in Central and South America, and this will eventually cripple their ability to wage violent wars over supply routes to the U.S. and sap their motivation for doing so.

Colorado is to be the first of many states (Washington is next) that will soon enjoy the profound economic and social benefits that come with legal marijuana. New Hampshire has taken note; the House of Representatives passed a marijuana legalization bill in January that was modeled on the Colorado legislation. However, the bill is unlikely to make it through the state senate and, if by some miracle it passes, Governor Maggie Hassan has publicly expressed her intention to veto the law.

This raises the question: why? Weed is no more stigmatized in New Hampshire than in Colorado or Washington (in fact some studies have indicated that New Hampshire has greater per capita use of marijuana than Colorado), and New Hampshire could certainly benefit from additional tax revenue.

Opponents of marijuana legalization have long argued that the drug (dare I say plant) creates a dependency in the user, and that pot is the proverbial "gateway drug." This argument, more appropriately titled a myth, has never been grounded in science and is simply not tenable. Proponents of this belief point to the fact that marijuana users are statistically more likely to have tried cocaine than non-marijuana users, but this is entirely misleading. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has publicly stated: "Because it is the most widely used illicit drug, marijuana is predictably the first illicit drug most people encounter. Not surprisingly, most users of other illicit drugs have used marijuana first. ... There is no conclusive evidence that the drug effects of marijuana are causally linked to the subsequent abuse of other illicit drugs."

Governor Hassan should evaluate the science, or lack thereof, behind the claims of marijuana prohibitionists. If any semblance of a gateway effect exists, it arises out of marijuana's illegality, which forces casual smokers to purchase from dealers that in many cases have access to harder drugs. To place marijuana in the same realm as cocaine, heroine and methamphetamine is ridiculous; it's time to end this myopic strategy. New Hampshire has every reason-economic, social and otherwise-to join Colorado and embrace the growing national trend. Just as with alcohol, we will look back with head-scratching bemusement and wonder why governments outlawed marijuana in the first place.

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