The face of the War on Drugs has been changing over the past decade, largely due to changes in the ways that marijuana is regulated on a state by state basis. It started with medical marijuana laws in some states, and decriminalization laws in others. Recently, some states have been voting to allow for recreational marijuana use, which is causing logistical nightmares for politicians who are likely torn over the troubles of creating new laws to cover the implications of marijuana legalization, and the potential for large amounts of tax dollars that can help struggling state economies. While many still oppose legalization of the drug for a number of valid and invalid reasons, it is beginning to look like legal marijuana will soon be the norm for many citizens of the United States.
Until very recently, New Hampshire has been the only state in New England where marijuana possession is considered a crime. This is in spite of six attempts to pass bills regarding marijuana reform over the past 15 years. Many politicians and citizens alike have reservations about marijuana decriminalization and reform, especially with the current opioid crisis that has led to a huge spike in overdose deaths in the past few years and is only getting worse. While pro-legalization advocates claim that reducing the criminal charges associated with possession of marijuana will reduce the occurrence of opioid abuse in the state, those who are against it feel that appearing to “go soft” on marijuana will make it appear as though the state is accepting of other drug use as well.
New Hampshire was also the last state in New England to adopt medical marijuana laws. It wasn’t until April of 2016 that a medical marijuana program was finally instituted and started in the state. With only four open dispensaries, and a limited list of qualifying diagnoses, it can be difficult for patients who could benefit from marijuana to obtain it. This is likely because many doctors in the state remain unconvinced as to its efficacy, and are uncomfortable with the manner in which the drug is distributed. It is believed that certain strains of marijuana act differently than others, but often it is a bit of a guessing game for patients to figure out what strain will work best for their particular ailment. This is concerning for doctors who feel that this type of experimentation should not be left in the hands of dispensary workers who may be untrained and under-qualified.
Despite these strong arguments for opposing decreased regulations on marijuana use in the state, a few months ago, a marijuana decriminalization bill was once again on the table for New Hampshire. The arguments against it were the same. But this time, decriminalization passed, and the bill was signed into law under a week ago. There are still a number of people who oppose it, yet for some reason, the tide has changed.
So, what could be different this time? It could be that the general consensus of the people has changed and politicians are finally seeing that inevitability. Or, it could be something else.
Maine and Massachusetts passed recreational marijuana laws at the end of 2016. Once the two states figure out the logistics, legal marijuana will be but a short drive away for most New Hampshire residents. Vermont is also looking into recreational marijuana laws, and it looks as though it won’t be long before New Hampshire is surrounded on all sides by states that have legalized and regulated the drug. This is a unique situation that no other state in the union is currently contending with.
Since New Hampshire’s economy relies greatly on tourism, it isn’t in the state’s best interests to continue to arrest people for even small amounts of marijuana, as it could be a deterrent to people wishing to visit or pass through. Many of the tourists coming into the state are from neighboring states where it is legal to obtain and possess marijuana, and until now, crossing the border with that marijuana meant they were putting themselves at risk for jail time and hefty fines. With the new decriminalization law, this is no longer a concern for people passing through. While there is still a small fine associated with marijuana possession, and the possibility of having the drugs seized, visitors no longer have to worry about going to jail as long as they have under three-quarters of an ounce in their possession.
Could the legalization of recreational marijuana in surrounding states be forcing New Hampshire to decriminalize marijuana in spite of the fact that many legislators and citizens are not yet on board with the idea? This is an interesting concept to ponder as marijuana reform seems to be gaining traction across the country, with more states voting for medical, decriminalization, and recreational laws. Will some states be forced to ‘join the party’ even when they don’t really want to?