Pursue a new path concerning marijuana

The prohibition of marijuana has not only proven to be an unsuccessful strategy for drug control, but is also has harmed our communities in untold ways. It is time to pursue a new path.

While serving for 10 years as a police officer in Bedford, I was exposed to the many ways in which marijuana prohibition is harming young people and the communities in which they live. These issues lead to mistrust between community members and those of us who took an oath to protect those communities (and generally live within them ourselves). This lack of cooperation both limits the opportunities of our young people and exacerbates the long-standing tension between communities of color and law enforcement, making our jobs much more difficult.

In 2017, law enforcement in the United States made a total of 599,282 arrests for simple possession of marijuana. Each of these arrests, researchers in New York estimated, costs approximately 2.5 hours of police time. That’s about 1.5 million police hours that could have been better spent investigating rape kits, tracking down murderers and preventing new crimes. And that doesn’t even include the time (and money) spent by prosecutors, judges, corrections officials, administrators, parole officers, probation officials and others punishing certain members of our population for an activity that most adults have partaken in at some point in their lives.

New Hampshire took an important step forward in 2017 when it decriminalized possession of up to three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana. However, adults are still being punished for their decision to consume marijuana, and possession of a single plant remains classified as a felony offense. Granite Staters know they could move to any of the three neighboring states and grow their own marijuana without fear of arrest or prosecution.

Unfortunately, decriminalization is an incomplete policy, because it does absolutely nothing to combat the illicit market. Making marijuana illegal greatly inflates its value, so that criminal organizations – who currently control a trade that legitimate New Hampshire business owners are hoping to be a part of – are able to bankroll other illegal activities through revenue from marijuana sales.

And unlike those business owners, the organizations that currently control the trade are not subject to taxes or licensing or regulations on advertising or purity or potency or hours of sale like those businesspeople would be. Most importantly, they don’t care who they sell to, and they may sell substances that are far more dangerous than marijuana. Unlike alcohol retailers, they don’t have to worry about losing their license if they are caught selling to minors. In fact, minors are some of their best customers.

Our lawmakers estimate that legalizing marijuana would raise tens of millions of dollars each year to benefit our state. The advantages of this revenue can be seen today. Five years after legalizing marijuana in Colorado, the taxes they have raised have translated into $160 million toward school construction statewide. Although New Hampshire may choose to use the money in other ways, whatever lawmakers decide is certain to be better than having the money continue to go into the pockets of drug dealers.

It is time that this war on marijuana is ended and our resources productively redirected to address the needs of our communities. Legalizing marijuana would be one step toward this goal, and I, for one, think we should take it.

Joseph Lachance was a police officer in Bedford, a military police officer and a former New Hampshire state representative. He is now a speaker for the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, a nonprofit of police, prosecutors, judges, corrections officials and other law enforcement officials trying to improve the criminal justice system.