Will Marijuana Sales Set Us Free in New Hampshire?

On Behalf of the New Hampshire Academy of Family Physicians (NH AFP) I speak in opposition of HB 481. As a family physician who currently, the commercialization of marijuana would adversely affect the health and safety of our most vulnerable population, children. While, the Academy supports research and decriminalization of marijuana, legalizing a drug with known long-term effects on a one’s cognitive capacity and abilities fundamentally contradicts my oath to first “do no harm” to my patients. I offer my expertise as a physician scientific in order to bring objective and personal experience to this matter

I appreciate the commission’s thorough assessment on the pros and cons of the legalization and commercialization of marijuana in our state, and as the chair said, “this is a big leap” for a state who has already taken steps to both medicalize and decriminalize marijuana. What this bill is asking for is to completely allow free market in an industry that is young and lacks evidence to support its benefits.

Many draw direct correlations between alcohol and marijuana industries. Using the legalization and commercialization of alcohol as an example of how to proceed with marijuana is comparing apples to oranges. Although harmful, I can tell you alcohol’s mechanism of action on the body. We can test and measure alcohol content in a practically universal fashion. As a physician, I cannot even legally study the uses, harms and benefits of marijuana. Furthermore, its distribution is not regulated as alcohol. How am I supposed given objective recommendations to the consumer, my patient, so that she may make an informed decision? Furthermore, we should consider the unintended consequences of legalization, as it relates to regulation and law enforcement. For example, how would a police officer be able to objectively screen for DUI without objective data and standardization? Industrializing marijuana is a potential revenue generator, but gleaning from the example of neighbors in Massachusetts, it may not yield as much revenue as expected.

I can tell you that being a family physician who worked in a rural town of 3500 people in the crux of legalization of marijuana within one of California’s largest geographical counties, I perceived correlations of exposure to marijuana and increased rates of depression, poor concentration and poor school performance. From the babies I delivered whose parents consumed and used marijuana, to the increased rates of depression and cognitive-behavioral problems in school, to the increase ER presentations (that I would cover) and the lung disease, abdominal problems in adults. I saw it all.

I continue to hear the terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” as interchangeable. They are not. Decriminalization is imperative, as people of color are disproportionately are imprisoned more for possession and related causes people of European decent. Decriminalization addresses this issue, and NH has already taken the needed steps regarding this matter. Legalization gives a carte blanche to the manufacturing, distribution and selling in addition to possession of the drug. Should we be so quick to take this step, when we as a state may not have the necessary infrastructure to provide oversight, education and responsible distribution of this substance? I respectfully caution us to take deliberate and intentional steps in this process, so as to avoid unintended consequences that we will not be able to take back! Should we be so quick to allow a “something is better than nothing” approach in this matter when we have an opportunity to implement a plan that will give the consumer full disclosure and opportunity to make the best informed decision?

Lastly, in a state that is looking for creative streams of revenue generation, many find this bill appealing. How much tax revenue is a good enough reason to bargain the health and longevity of our future? Should we as a state open this door for an unsaid amount? I was in these chambers more than 20 years ago as a young child advocating against the commercialization of tobacco in the state and I seem to hear the very same verbiage today as with Big Tobacco. When looking across the border to Massachusetts, the current revenue is significantly less than initially anticipated. An additional item not addressed in the bill is what to do with the said revenue generated.

We should assess and consider wisely this bill that leaves all the liberties of how our state rolls out the distribution of marijuana without any provisions towards the education and protection of our most impressionable.