CONCORD —Legalizing pot would lead to less tax revenue than forecast, more crime and lawsuits and an insidious black market, the lobby of New Hampshire's local police chiefs charged in a stinging commentary.
The head of the Marijuana Policy Project pushing for recreational pot use to be legal said all those claims are unfounded. Any kinks have been worked out in the nine states that have allowed it, he said.
With the final report of a commission that studied this question now out, this public policy fight will return to the Legislature in 2019.
Voters will answer a key question Tuesday and that's whether the next chief executive will either be a cheerleader for or an obstacle against it.
Gov. Chris Sununu said he signed the 2017 law decriminalizing possession but that full-blown legalization would be the worst step to take in the midst of an opioid crisis.
"I think the notion the Democratic Party has adopted this as part of its platform; that's a very dangerous place to be," Sununu said last week.
Democratic nominee Molly Kelly said she would sign such a reform.
"The idea that this would become a pathway to other drugs is not true; in fact I think it would be just the opposite," Kelly said.
A representative of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police sat on the commission as it did not recommend legalization but outlined those boundaries that should exist if that did come to pass.
Last weekend the chiefs authored an op-ed that laid out its many reasons to oppose the move.
"Legalization sends a message to youth that the harm of marijuana use is minimal. A diminished risk of use can lead to more use by youth at a time their brain is still developing," the chiefs wrote.
"Science has consistently shown marijuana use can lead to psychosis, schizophrenia, and other mental health issues especially in our youth."
Matt Simon, political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said there's no causal link between marijuana and these serious psychological diseases.
Simon said tobacco or alcohol use are far more dangerous than pot though its organization stresses it should only be made legal for anyone over 18.
Simon called the commission's work a good learning experience but that lawmakers would fine tune the product.
"That being said, I believe this year's election results are likely to have a much greater impact on the future of cannabis policy than anything that is or isn't in the commission's report," Simon said.
Simon's group had led the campaign over more than five years to make New Hampshire the 19th state in the nation to legalize marijuana for medical use in July 2013. There are now 31 states where medical marijuana is legal.
Sununu also signed a law expanding the number of conditions that qualified for medical marijuana.
Although most study commission reports are signed by all members, members from law enforcement and other factions opposed to legalization refused to the sign the report in a heated debate at the final meeting before its Nov. 1 release.
The police chiefs maintain that drug overdose cases, the cost of law enforcement and highway fatal crashes all have gone up in some states that passed legalization.
"With legalization has come an increase in motor vehicle accidents and deaths," the chiefs said. "Marijuana is the most commonly seen illicit drug in fatal accidents."
In these states where it's legal, New Hampshire chiefs maintain that illegal sales of marijuana have cropped up.
"The black market has been used by organized crime to deal drugs," the chiefs said. "Diversion from the legal to the gray market is also a significant problem in these states."
Simon said states that properly price the sale of legal marijuana do not have black market problems.
The chiefs group further maintained the Department of Revenue Administration had overestimated in concluding this could bring in up to $57 million in taxes.
"They used a sales tax and assumed a cost of over $325 an ounce," the chiefs said. "Currently in some states it is sold for less than $100 an ounce."
The House has acted favorably on legalization in the past, but legalization efforts have failed in the Senate and would almost certainly be vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu if he wins reelection.