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Friday, January 31, 2014

NH urged to slow down on road to legalizing marijuana

CONCORD – Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy – a self-confessed alcoholic – passionately urged the New Hampshire Legislature on Thursday to reject legalization of marijuana in favor of more spending on substance abuse treatment and youth education.

Kennedy and former White House drug policy czar Kevin Sabet spoke at the Legislative Office Building and New Hampshire Institute of Politics to celebrate New Hampshire becoming the 20th state to set up a Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) agenda. ...

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CONCORD – Former Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy – a self-confessed alcoholic – passionately urged the New Hampshire Legislature on Thursday to reject legalization of marijuana in favor of more spending on substance abuse treatment and youth education.

Kennedy and former White House drug policy czar Kevin Sabet spoke at the Legislative Office Building and New Hampshire Institute of Politics to celebrate New Hampshire becoming the 20th state to set up a Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) agenda.

“I am against legalization because I don’t want to see a commercial, for-profit industry, come in whose only motivation is to get more customers,” Kennedy told reporters at a news conference with New Futures, the anti-substance abuse advocacy group sponsoring the New Hampshire SAM chapter.

Kennedy praised the state for deliberating the legalization issue as legislation, which didn’t happen in Colorado and Washington, where voters made marijuana legal through referendum.

“All I would say to New Hampshire is slow down on the road to legalization of marijuana,” Kennedy said. “Take a look at the experience in Colorado and Washington. Let no one confuse you about what the future looks like.”

Marijuana strength has become greater in recent years and studies have showed it leads to lower scores on IQ tests by youths who are frequent users, Kennedy said.

“We are talking about a public health nightmare coming down the road,” Kennedy said.

Matt Simon, state director of the Marijuana Policy Project mocked SAM as marketing itself as a moderate, “third-way” approach between tougher criminal penalties for marijuana use and legalization.

“It’s clear the New Hampshire legislators understand the difference between a limited, regulated approach and full legalization because in 2013, the House considered an actual, full legalization bill,” Simon said adding the House killed that measure, 239-112.

In May 2006, Kennedy drove his car into a barricade near the Capitol as he was late for a vote. A day later he admitted to suffering from alcohol and drug abuse addiction in addition to bipolar disorder.

After 16 years in Congress, Kennedy left his seat in January 2011 to try and get well.

“Mental health illness and addiction is the elephant in the room. We all tiptoe around it rather than confront it head on which is what SAM sets out to do,” Kennedy said.

Former drug policy czar Sabet said abuse of legal prescription drugs, alcohol and tobacco cause half a million deaths a year and charged that adding marijuana to this list would cause that carnage to grow.

“Are we having fun yet? Why in the world would we want to add another drug,” Sabet said.

Later he added, “We are not standing here as people who want to bring the handcuffs up, but people who want to bring the stethoscope up.”

Dr. Stuart Gitlow, with the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and Tym Rourke, with the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention, Intervention and Treatment, also spoke Thursday.

Earlier this month, the House narrowly endorsed legalizing possession of up to one ounce of marijuana which sent the measure to the House Ways and Means Committee.

On Thursday, that House panel in charge of all tax and fee measures heard from state agency heads and financial executives about the revenue-raising potential of such a measure.

The Department of Revenue reported the sales would generate in state profits $26.6 million a year at the low end up to $39.9 million annually.

The bill’s ultimate survival for this bill (HB 492) is considered impossible since Gov. Maggie Hassan has already vowed to veto any drug legalization bills that get to her desk.

The Republican-led State Senate is also likely to reject the measure, according to leaders in both political parties.

The measure left over from the 2013 session would allow anyone who’s 21 or older to have or transport marijuana and impose a state tax on its sale of 15 percent of the retail price.

The cultivator of marijuana would pay a tax equal to $30 per ounce.

The state would license sellers of the product and any store location would be subject to any zoning or site plan approvals required in a city or town.

Proponents maintain that since tobacco and alcohol are legal and taxed, marijuana should fall in the same boat since studies show that it can be less harmful and less addicting than both.

They also point to New Hampshire as the only state in New England where possession of small amounts of marijuana can subject someone to serve up to a year in county jail.

Prior to this month, the New Hampshire House never passed a bill to legalize and tax marijuana.

Last year, New Hampshire joined 19 other states and the District of Columbia to allow the chronically ill and their care givers to obtain marijuana for medical uses from state-licensed dispensaries.

The state has yet to create rules governing the sale of medical marijuana at up to four care centers.

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or klandrigan@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Landrigan on Twitter (@Klandrigan).