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Another View -- Dr. William Goodman: New Hampshire should not legalize recreational marijuana

February 11. 2018 11:57PM

New Hampshire distinguishes itself from its neighbors in a variety of ways including our lack of an income or sales tax and the absence of casino gambling. We should continue to hold our ground on recreational marijuana use. Other states’ permitting it does not mean we should allow the same. We do what is right for our citizens and liberalizing access to marijuana now is not the right thing to do.

As we’ve decriminalized marijuana and made it available as medical therapy, marijuana use patterns and perceived levels of danger have evolved, even though we don’t know the full extent of risk related to its consumption. Surveys and focus groups find that youth believe marijuana is not a drug because it is a natural product and they question why (medical) marijuana could be good for you if you’re sick but it’s illegal when you’re healthy.

Compared to alcohol, tobacco and opioids, our understanding of the health effects of marijuana is primitive. Aside from showing benefit in a limited number of serious medical conditions, we know that smoking marijuana causes worsening of respiratory symptoms and a significantly increased risk of motor vehicle crashes. Maternal cannabis smoking is associated with lower birth weight of offspring and in utero impaired brain development.

Permitting recreational use of marijuana by those aged 21 or older will undoubtedly enable more teens and children to get access to it too. “Youth past month marijuana use” increased 12 percent in the three year-average (2013-2015) after Colorado legalized recreational marijuana compared to the three year-average prior to legalization (2010-2012). This is worrisome because the developing brain of a young person is particularly sensitive to damage from exposure to marijuana. In young people, there is good evidence of an association between cannabis use and impairment in the cognitive domains of memory, learning, and attention. Frequent or long-term marijuana use is linked to school dropout and lower educational achievement.

Due to the lack of adequate research and understanding of marijuana, except for a few limited illnesses, we do not have the ability to predict who it will benefit and who it will harm. In contrast, we know enough about alcohol to set legal limits of blood alcohol concentrations.

Unlike alcohol, we don’t know enough yet to adequately guide the use of marijuana or edibles and we do not have the equivalent of a breathalyzer test to help police confirm that someone who has been using marijuana is impaired while driving. Although a blood test exists to measure THC, the main psychoactive component of marijuana, specific drug concentration levels cannot be reliably equated with a specific degree of driver impairment.

Whether or not marijuana is a gateway drug to more potent and obviously dangerous illicit agents such as opioids is controversial. It makes sense to resolve this controversy before we liberalize the use of marijuana, especially at a time when we have one of the top rates of drug overdose deaths in the country.

Businesses are struggling to adequately staff due to low unemployment in New Hampshire. Releasing marijuana for recreational use would add to their difficulty. As is happening in Colorado, many of our businesses will be challenged to find employees who can pass a pre-employment drug screen, especially those in construction, transportation and those doing business with the Federal government. In Colorado, there are nearly as many businesses selling marijuana as the combined number of McDonald’s and Starbucks — is this what we want for our communities?

To learn more about this important topic please visit or speak with your doctor. HB656 is legislation that will jeopardize our NH advantage by putting us at unacceptable risk for illness, motor vehicle accidents, and an impaired workforce. Please contact your State Representative to let them know that now is not the right time to make marijuana legal for recreational use in New Hampshire.

Dr. William Goodman is chief medical officer and vice president of medical affairs at Catholic Medical Center in Manchester.

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