Advocacy group warns against the legalization of marijuana

MILFORD – With the New Hampshire Legislature expected to pass a bill legalizing recreational marijuana use, the president of a health advocacy group told a town hall meeting here last week, that would not be a good thing.

The bill would legalize up to an ounce of recreational marijuana and 5 grams of concentrated cannabis. Adults would be allowed to grow up to six plants, and a cannabis control commission would be set up to license and regulate cannabis businesses. Supporters argue that it could bring the state millions a year in revenue,

But legalization “opens the door to Big Marijuana and to the advertising of harmful substances to youth,” said Michele Merritt, of New Futures, showing photos of colorful packages of marijuana eatables and of streets in Colorado and California lined with cannabis shops.

“It will be marketed to our kids – marketed like candy,” she said. “There are very strong voices for the marijuana industry,” backing the bill.

Merritt was one of the speakers at the evening program sponsored by C.A.S.T. (Community Action for Safe Teens) to prevent vaping, marijuana, alcohol and drug misuse, with a focus on the marketing of the substances.

The marijuana sold today is not the marijuana of the 1960s, which had only 3 percent of the psychoactive substance THC, Merritt said. Today’s pot is 99 percent THC, and “we have no idea about the drug’s long-term effects.”

New Hampshire already allows medical marijuana and has decriminalized possession, she said, so no one is going to jail for possession. A Governor’s commission created to reduce alcohol and drug problems in New Hampshire recently expressed opposition to the bill.

Vaping is felt to be less harmful than cigarettes, said Dr. Albee Budnitz, of Breathe New Hampshire, but electronic cigarettes contain nicotine, which disrupts the normal brain functions of teenagers. Those who use them are three or four times more likely to go on to smoke cigarettes.

“It’s the next generation of cigarettes for the next generation of addicts,” he said.

Three young teens who are part of the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley’s youth group called YES (Youth Empowerment and Service Team) showed photos they took in local convenience stores where posters for beer and cigarettes are next to posters of the New England Patriot’s scheduled and where alcohol is on shelves at eye level, next to snacks, and beer six-packs are stacked over the ice cream cooler.

“Clerks said companies spend millions to get counter space to make them noticeable and accessible,” said one of them.

Elizabeth Harwood, who teaches psychopharmacology at Rivier University, talked about risk factors for addiction that include drug availability, school problems, poor relationships with parents, too much unsupervised time, parents who use drugs, the attitude of peers, as well as genetic and brain differences.

But addiction doesn’t discriminate among social groups, she said, and in 2017 more than 72,000 people died. In New Hampshire “we are number 2” in drug deaths, and addiction costs the state $2.4 billion. The good news is that use of alcohol, cigarettes, amphetamines and metampetaimines are on the decrease.

“Why? Because recent drug prevention efforts” have paid off – young people listen, she said.

C.A.S.T. was the recipient of the Drug Free Communities Award, from the federal Office of National Drug Control Policy, a grant that amounts to $625,000 over five years and will go toward prevention efforts, including data collection, mentoring, workforce development programs, juvenile court diversion and building community connections.

Kathy Cleveland may be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@

cabinet.com.

COMMENTS