NEW HAMPSHIRE’S study commission on marijuana legalization, regulation, and taxation has completed its work, and the result is an informative report that will be useful to the Legislature in 2019.
Like many advocates for ending marijuana prohibition, I was skeptical at first about the make-up of this commission. Many of its members — including the chiefs of police — had strongly opposed previous reforms such as medical cannabis and decriminalization, and they did not seem to be at all open-minded on the question of legalization.
Encouragingly, the commission’s chairman, Rep. Patrick Abrami, made it clear from the beginning that he did not think the commission should take a position on whether cannabis should be legal. That, he said, would be for the Legislature to decide. Instead, he directed the commission to focus on developing recommendations for how cannabis should be regulated and taxed if the Legislature decides to move forward with legalization.
In the end, after 26 meetings and hearing testimony from all eight states that regulate cannabis for adults’ use, the commission settled on 54 specific recommendations for policymakers in New Hampshire.
Although we may disagree about a few of the specific recommendations, the commissioners deserve praise for their diligent efforts and for putting forward a thoughtful proposal based on what they heard from states that have successfully implemented similar policies.
Specifically, the commission recommended that, if cannabis is legalized in New Hampshire, it should be produced and sold by businesses that are licensed, regulated, and taxed at a reasonable level by the state. The commission also recommended that adults should be free to securely grow a limited number of plants for their own consumption, which is already the case in all three neighboring states. To minimize any negative effects associated with misuse of cannabis, the commission recommended a robust public education campaign and some commonsense regulations regarding the testing and labeling of cannabis products.
As the commission heard in testimony from other states, a regulated cannabis market would create jobs and bring needed economic development to New Hampshire. It would also produce tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue that could be used to help mitigate the opiate crisis. Perhaps most importantly, cannabis regulation would divert hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity away from the illicit drug market and into to the coffers of legal, regulated New Hampshire businesses.
Instead of continuing to buy their cannabis from illicit drug dealers, who do not check ID’s and may introduce their customers to more dangerous substances, Granite Staters would be free to either purchase their cannabis from regulated retail stores or grow their own. Either way, the policy would result in far fewer of our friends, neighbors, and family members being exposed to the dangerous market for illicit drugs.
Unfortunately, although New Hampshire is now surrounded by jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis, some reform opponents still do not seem willing to acknowledge either the costs of prohibition or the potential benefits of regulation. They argue, for example, that legalization has allowed the illicit market to flourish in Colorado.
However, it is clearly the continuation of prohibition in most states, not legalization and regulation in a few states, that continues to fuel demand for an illicit market in the U.S.
While Granite Staters continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year buying cannabis from illicit dealers, Colorado’s retail market has flourished, exceeding $1 billion in sales in the first eight months of this year and producing roughly $200 million in tax revenue.
Make no mistake: cannabis is by far the most popular illicit substance in New Hampshire, and our state’s drug dealers will not be happy at all when retail cannabis stores are allowed to take away their business.
Now that two-thirds of Granite Staters and two-thirds of Americans believe cannabis should be legal for use by adults, it has become apparent that legalization is no longer a question of “if” — it’s a question of “when and how.” The commission’s report goes a long way toward answering the question of “how,” but only the Legislature and governor can decide “when.”
While considering that question, New Hampshire policymakers should remember a fact that is not included in the commission’s report: cannabis is objectively less harmful than alcohol, and most residents of the “Live Free or Die” state are ready to see it treated that way.