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Brandon Ross: A sure-fire way to eradicate NH's 'spice' problem

August 20. 2014 6:32PM

ALMOST 50 New Hampshire residents overdosed on “spice” last week. Spice is the street name for toxic potpourri products — labeled “not for human consumption”— that some people nonetheless smoke for a cheap, legal high.

In response to the recent overdoses, Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a “state of emergency.” Attorney General Joe Foster warns that spice producers are on notice — as if that alone would discourage these careless drug pushers.

This same theater piece has played out before. Each time, we ban spice’s active ingredient. These drug makers change spice’s ingredients just enough to skirt changes to the law. But each change makes spice a little more dangerous. This is a battle that legislation simply cannot win: Chemists work faster than legislators and bureaucrats. Our strategy is fundamentally flawed.

One year from today, New Hampshire could completely eliminate spice as a public health hazard. But Gov. Hassan has repeatedly opposed the common-sense policies that would remove this dangerous drug from our streets. The common-sense fix is counterintuitive, but simple: decriminalize marijuana.

Spice tries to mimic the active ingredient in marijuana, THC. Yet neither THC nor marijuana is inherently dangerous (they’re far safer than alcohol). What motivates spice makers to continue to make these dangerous products — and invest the effort in responding to new drug laws?

Marijuana is illegal. But tomorrow’s version of spice is not. Spice’s danger is a direct result of marijuana policy. By banning marijuana, we’ve created something far worse.

Spice users — disproportionately poor and working class individuals — are choosing these deadly-but-legal products over risking jail time from even possessing marijuana. While it may seem simple, Spice users too frequently believe that spice is simply a legal marijuana substitute.

Like old Prohibition tales of blindness-inducing bathtub gin, these recent spice overdoses are collateral damage in a failed prohibition against marijuana.

We should choose a more sensible path to controlling the social evils of drugs. Even if we would not use marijuana, our law should treat marijuana no differently than alcohol and tobacco. We should treat true addiction — of all substances — like a public health problem.

Today, we too often treat even possession of marijuana as a criminal justice problem, and we waste millions of dollars each year enforcing it. As we’re seeing in every location that has abandoned ineffective marijuana policy, crime goes down — as does actual drug use—and state tax revenues go up.

It’s just common sense to take a step back and re-evaluate how our marijuana policy is failing. In recent years, Republicans have moved multiple bills to decriminalize marijuana in New Hampshire. But both Democratic Govs. John Lynch and Hassan vetoed progress toward a more sensible drug-control policy.

While Gov. Hassan approved of medical marijuana over a year ago, Hassan’s administration has bogged it down in endless bureaucratic red tape, intentionally denying access to marijuana’s pain-killing benefits to dying patients who would benefit most.

Often, doing the right thing is not politically expedient. And, as these recent overdoses have shown, the governor’s choices can have serious public health consequences.

Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway is the only serious candidate on the campaign trail who has the resolve to reverse course on our expensive, ineffective marijuana policy. When we see a New Hampshire governor willing to do the right thing and listen to the people’s representatives — instead of doing what’s politically convenient — spice producers will be out of business in New Hampshire. Which, ironically, will be the first real victory in the war on drugs in a long time.

Brandon Ross of Manchester is Republican candidate for New Hampshire House of Representatives in Hillsborough District 42, comprising Manchester’s Wards 1, 2, and 3.

New Hampshire Opinion Oped Manchester

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