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Marijuana legalization sparks up debate

  • Community Conversations: Should NH Legalize Cannabis? sparked debate about the use of marijuana in the 'Live Free or Die' state. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Jane Skantze, a Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator for the Greater Monadnock Public Health Region, argued against the legalization of recreational marijuana at the forum Tuesday night.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Kate Frey, Vice President of Advocacy of New Futures, speaks against the commercialization of recreational marijuana at Community Conversations in Peterborough Tuesday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Lisa Powers, with American Cannabis Nurses Association, spoke in favor of legalizing recreational use of marijuana in New Hampshire at a community forum on the issue Tuesday night.  Staff photo by Meghan Pierce

  • Community Conversations: Should NH Legalize Cannabis? sparks debate at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce—

  • Joe Hannon, a member of the NH Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana spoke at “Community Conversations: Should NH Legalize Cannabis?” at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture on Tuesday night. Staff photo by Meghan Pierce



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Monday, January 21, 2019 12:0PM

Attendees of a community forum in Peterborough Tuesday night overwhelmingly spoke in favor of legalizing cannabis in New Hampshire for recreational use.

About 50 people attended the forum – “Community Conversations: Should NH Legalize Cannabis?” – in Bass Hall at the Monadnock Center for History and Culture.

Opening the forum acting as the moderator, Peterborough Selectwoman Karen Hatcher said, “New Hampshire is surrounded on all sides by states – Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and Canada – that have now legalized and taxed recreational cannabis use. New Hampshire currently allows medical marijuana manufacturing, but is it inevitable that recreational use is next?”

While the state decriminalized marijuana in 2017, a bill put forward to legalize recreational use failed to pass in 2018.

Leading the argument against legalization of recreational use was Kate Frey, Vice President of Advocacy of New Futures, and Jane Skantze, a Substance Misuse Prevention Coordinator for the Greater Monadnock Public Health Region.

“We’re in the midst of a substance abuse epidemic,” Frey said, saying legalizing cannabis would lead to more drug and substance abuse in general.

Frey and Skantze focused their arguments against the commercialization of cannabis, making it the next “big tobacco” and “big alcohol.”

“I believe that legalizing and commercializing this harmful substance is going to make it more available to youth in our communities,” Skantze said. “We know that marijuana negatively impacts brain development,” Skante said, which continues through age 25. She added it is the number one reason why youth seek substance abuse treatment.

They also said marijuana is highly addictive and a gateway drug.

“They are industries that make their money from an addictive substance,” Frey said, adding she is concerned the edible cannabis is highly dangerous for children, who may think the products are candy. And, she said there should be potency limits on edible cannabis.

Speaking in favor of legalizing was Joe Hannon, a member of the NH Commission to Study the Legalization, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana, and Lisa Powers, a nurse for the American Cannabis Association, who stepped in for Dan Stockwell, a member of Americans for Safe Access, who was unable to attend.

Hannon and Powers said they are not pushing for commercialization, just legalization.

“Prohibition” of cannabis has been harmful in the same ways the alcohol Prohibition was harmful,” Hannon said.

Most people at the forum spoke in favor of legalization saying that the medical marijuana laws in New Hampshire are incredibly restrictive and that people should be allowed to use cannabis for personal use from everyday pain reduction to hospice care.

“Prohibition brought us nothing but trouble,” Hannon said, quoting Al Capone, and adding “Prohibition gave us Al Capone and the Kennedys, it gave us crime and I think Prohibition also gave us a disrespect for the law.”

Hannon said he is also he is also opposed to commercialization.

“We don’t want a big commercial market that is big and geared toward selling to kids,” Hannon said. “None of us want more people doing it. None of us want kids doing it.”

Many in the attendance disputed claims from Frey and Skantze who said marijuana is a gateway drug and is addictive. When pressed by someone in the audience, Frey said her only source that cannabis is addictive is federal agencies.

Most people who use marijuana don’t use other drugs, Hannon said.

“What makes it a gateway drug?” Hannon asked, saying he is in long term recovery. “Marijuana was something I was using heavily before I was 18. It was a gateway for me in that I was able to buy harder drugs because I was already going to someone in the illicit market.”

Hannon said it is time to be honest with children about what marijuana is actually like and stop fueling the “Reefer Madness” propaganda that lied to people about how the drug affects people.

Powers said the opioid use epidemic in New Hampshire is being spurred by doctors prescribing painkillers. Powers and others at the forum said when seeking pain relief in a doctor’s office their only option is opioid painkillers.

“Cannabis is going to help,” Powers said, of the opioid crisis, along with education.

Jill Shaffer Hammond, a former state representative said, among other reasons to legalize the state is going to continue to lose young residents if it does not.

“My feeling is we have to absolutely have to legalize marijuana, cannabis similar to what we do with the liquor commission,” Hammond said. “This cat is already out of the bag. We are surrounded by states who are legalizing it. So what it means now is that we are going to have all of the problems and none of the solutions. We will not have the revenue. I tweeted the other day, that great sucking sound you are hearing is all the young people leaving the state to go to the surrounding state and inhaling.”

If legalized it would take it out of the black market and control the point of sale, so underage people cannot buy it the way cigarette and alcohol purchases are controlled.

Hammond said state legislators could work it out. If it was up to her she would outlaw edibles, but allow people to grow up to 20 plants at home.

“And the last thing is when I’m a little old lady sitting in the nursing home I want to be able to toke up, eat a lot of cookies and giggle at the TV,” Hammond said to the applause of the room.

Many others spoke to the benefits the elderly could get from cannabis use, such as improving sleep and appetite, which many said, seniors struggle with.

Hannon said the elderly are actually the highest population taking advantage of the state’s medical marijuana.

Caveman, an Antrim resident and Joel Faucher of Peterborough quoted the Bible, Genesis 1:29 “Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”

Skantze responded to that saying she believes in God, but not everything in the Old Testament.

Sarah Steinberg Heller said it bothers her that the “Live Free or Die” state is not allowing the freedom that the states surrounding it area.

In a Monadnock Ledger-Transcript online poll held over the past week, 70 percent of the 360 voters voted yes to the legalization of recreational use, with 30 percent saying no.

Community Conversations are held about four times a year to address issues impacting the communities in the region and are sponsored by the Monadnock Center for History and Culture and the Monadnock Ledger-Transcript.