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January 18. 2014 1:27AM

Mike Cote's Business Editor's Notebook: Marijuana industry smells smoke in NH

For Manchester West High School kids back in the late '70s/early '80s, JB Munchies was the place where students could go to buy a roast beef grinder and some snacks. And perhaps, a pack of rolling papers or a pipe.

For tobacco, of course. Cigarette smoking was allowed on the school patio back then, and students would congregate there before school and between classes.

Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink.

Like the hit comedy series "That '70s Show" - which depicted Ashton Kutcher and his teenage buddies getting "dazed and confused" but never actually showed them smoking pot or mentioned it by name - marijuana use was something that was understood but left beneath the surface. Nobody believed that small corner shop on Schuyler Street was targeting tobacco lovers who wanted to roll their own.

Fast forward to Thursday and the iconic New Hampshire Union Leader headline: "NH House votes to inhale."

What a long, strange trip it's been.

In advance of Wednesday's House vote to give initial approval to the marijuana legislation bill, we received an email from a public relations agency offering up the availability of two industry experts who could comment on the bill.

"Industry" as in marijuana industry.

Available for interview was Justin Hartfield, the CEO of Ghost Group, described as an "operating company that owns and manages marijuana technology companies" and Jason Thompson, an attorney for GFarmaLabs, a "cultivator, processor, wholesaler and distributor of medical and adult use cannabis-based products," the pitch person wrote.

From another PR group, we were offered the use of a canned quote from Seibo Shen, CEO of VapeXhale, a "leader in the vaporizer industry, devices which help users and other patients ingest marijuana in a much safer and healthier way by dramatically reducing harmful smoke toxins."

While they are worth mentioning, we choose not to partake.

After all, while Wednesday's vote was historic, the bill's likelihood of passage this time around - Gov. Maggie Hassan has promised to veto it if it reaches her desk - is not enough to spark a reefer madness gold rush in the Granite State just yet.

But the door appears to be opening. Sixty percent of state residents in a recent University of New Hampshire/WMUR poll said they favored the idea of legalizing small amounts of marijuana.

And then, there is, of course, the huge piles of cash to be had.

In its recent "Marijuana market watch," MSNBC took a look at the stock performance of three publicly traded marijuana-related companies on the day Colorado debuted retail marijuana sales. The movement of the stocks, while they demonstrated a fair amount of volatility, was not nearly as significant as the context for why they were being reviewed.

"Colorado shops have been dealing an average of $1 million of cannabis per day with the state now predicting that legal marijuana sales will total almost $600 million in 2014, resulting in $70 million in new tax revenues," the report said.

Juxtapose this against the news release issued Friday by the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services, which said the Granite State had one of the highest rates of marijuana use in the past month among 12-to-17-year-olds - with about one in 10 adolescents reporting regular use, compared to the U.S. average of 7.6 percent.

Joe Harding, who directs the bureau, called the finding "disturbing."

"This underscores the need for us to collaborate with not only our partners in the field, but also businesses, law enforcement, the medical field, and schools to implement proven strategies to prevent youth use of marijuana," he said in the release.

Those proven strategies probably don't include legalization for adults.

Without a wink or a nudge, the debate rolls on.


Mike Cote (West High Class of '81) is business editor at the Union Leader. Contact him at 668-4321, ext. 324 or mcote@unionleader.com.



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