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Editorial: Granite State needs to step forward with the rest of New England

By TNH Editorial Staff

Weed seems to be everywhere these days.

In April, Massachusetts will see its first medical marijuana dispensary open and take yet another step towards the inevitable future of legalized recreational use. Of the six New England states, five have decriminalized marijuana with New Hampshire continuing to the resist.

But while our neighbors to the south slap a measly $100 fine on offenders with an ounce or less of marijuana, they’ll slap the cuffs on you here in New Hampshire.

According to an editorial that appeared in Foster’s Sunday Citizen this week, Rep. Robert Cushing (D-Hampton) was quoted saying New Hampshire spent $6.5 million in 2014 incarcerating or trying to incarcerate individuals arrest for smoking or having possession of marijuana.

If New Hampshire continues to drag its feet on pot laws, the Granite State could be among the last to take any steps forward.

It’s commonplace today to hear politicians admit they smoked pot in high school or college, but now condemn it from their authoritative perch.

The reality is not everybody can be a pothead at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., like Jeb Bush and find a successful career. A lot of people arrested for smoking marijuana, particularly in New Hampshire, find themselves neck-deep in legal troubles that can ruin their reputation and chances at finding employment.

But when Bush’s hazy past was documented in the Boston Sunday Globe in February, all he had to do was laugh it off. It doesn’t necessarily change the public’s perception of him. He still has a shot at being the Republican nominee for president in 2016.

Not everyone can look back on those days as just being innocent and reckless teenagers like Bush can. He still had a future. But for the 99 percent who cannot afford to hide those days, they don’t know what that record could mean for them down the road. Bush went on to be governor of Florida and one of the hardest on drug laws. How convenient.

The health risks of smoking pot have been significantly undermined since the days of “Reefer Madness.” In Concord, some lawmakers are gathering and submitting legislation that could decriminalize marijuana and another bill that would create a research committee on the subject. The decriminalization bill, House Bill 618, would reflect Massachusetts’ law where up to one ounce of marijuana is subject to a civil violation and a $100 fine.

We don’t expect things to change overnight in New Hampshire. Some progress has been made, but at a snail’s pace in comparison to the rest of the nation. In 2013, Gov. Maggie Hassan allowed legislation that legalized medical marijuana in the state. A very narrow group of Granite Staters qualify for medical marijuana, but it is a step in the right direction and can be continued.

There are far worse things plaguing society than marijuana. It has exited the national discussion, aside from climbing closer to legalization in several states and that will continue.

But any argument for marijuana to remain a Schedule 1 drug (along with heroin and ecstasy) has no ground these days. It’s up in smoke.

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