New Hampshire is facing the legalization trap with marijuana

In May 2016, nearly three years ago nearing the end of my first term as a New Hampshire House Representative, I penned an op-ed in frustration at the increasingly huge amounts of money the Legislature was throwing at the “opioid crisis” as the death toll continued to rise each year. The gist of the article was that throughout many different debates in committees and on the House floor, not once did a legislator mention what I believed to be THE main contributor to the drug problem: societal breakdown.

Further in that article, I mentioned a recent visit my wife, daughter and I had taken to the local county jail. During our tour, we visited with four young ladies (each in their late teens and 20s) for nearly an hour and had a great discussion about their lives, why they were there, their upbringing and family lives and hopes for their future once their incarceration was over. Here is what I wrote then:

“Each was extremely open while discussing her family background, upbringing and reasons for being incarcerated. They all lacked family structure, most coming from single-parent households. One even spoke of dealing drugs on behalf of her father. All were there related to heroin, not all for possession, but for crimes they had committed to get money for the drug. Though they didn’t use the phrases “personal responsibility” and “self-discipline” specifically, each noted it was up to themselves, once out of the program and jail, to avoid the mistakes they had previously made. They were adamant about getting jobs and structure into their lives as well as taking care of their children. If those that are affected most by drugs can see the root of the problems, why do we not place them into the discussion? As a side, but important note, three of the four strongly believed marijuana was, in their words, a “gateway drug” to heroin, while the fourth agreed it could be. This is something for us legislators to consider as we constantly debate decriminalization and legalization.”

Which brings me to the point: the negative effects of marijuana on society as a whole and marijuana as a potential gateway drug.

If we pay attention to the news and data coming out of states who have legalized recreational use of marijuana, we have seen no positive contributions to correcting societal breakdown. In nearly every case, it is the exact opposite. The only questionable benefit proponents tend to put forth is the “increased tax revenues” argument, to which they farcically go on to argue, can be used partially to combat drug addiction.

Weed’s legalization increases traffic accidents and correspondingly police workloads. Hospital admissions and medical costs increase. We do not witness improvement in teen scholastic achievement and reduced absenteeism. Employee absenteeism and work products suffer. And, most importantly, and logically, we have seen an increase in addictions.

The reason one sees no benefits from legalization is because the known negative effects are documented. Here are a few of the short/long term effects of marijuana use: memory difficulties, anxiety/paranoia/panic attacks, decreased reaction times and coordination issues, lower IQ for those beginning use at an early age, poor school/work performance and ability to perform complex tasks, relationship and anti-social problems, unemployment and its corresponding financial problems, and finally, addiction.

What can we possibly draw from this list that will be a net-positive for society if marijuana were to be legalized and we were constantly bombarded with ads promoting weed? Simply put, there are no net benefits to society.

Looking at the “marijuana as a gateway drug theory.” It has its opponents and proponents (and data simply yet exists to prove one side correct either way). It is extremely difficult to come up with any scenario where it can not at least be considered a probability. I would argue other factors such as the marijuana user’s familial and social environment, amount of parental involvement and the individual’s personal responsibility and self-discipline, play pivotal roles. In a paper published by the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2017, however, four doctors made the observation, based on a four-year study, that marijuana use significantly and substantially increased the odds a person would misuse opioid medication after using marijuana.

So just who are we to believe on the “marijuana as a gateway drug theory” as well as the negative effects? Our choice is between the proponents who say legalization creates no increased societal problems and adds extra tax dollars to the state’s coffers, or the incarcerated young women I met who laid out their individual negative social situations and agreed that marijuana was indeed a gateway drug. I know on whose perspective I’ll rely. You should, too.

Len Turcotte is a former New Hampshire state representative, who lives in Barrington.