Pot Makes You Lose Your Mind!

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Following Tuesday’s surprise House vote in New Hampshire in favor of legislation decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of pot, many of the Granite State’s political leaders and pundits have come down with severe cases of "Reefer Madness."

Among the afflicted: Democrat Governor John Lynch who, immediately following Tuesday’s vote, threatened to veto any plan that would reduce criminal penalties for small-time pot offenders. “[This bill] sends absolutely the wrong message to New Hampshire’s young people,” the governor stated through his spokesperson. “If the bill were to reach the governor’s desk, … he would veto it.”

Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta also appears to have contracted the disease. Yesterday, the mayor demanded state Rep. David Scannell, one of the 193 elected officials who voted in favor of HB 1623, to resign from his full-time job as spokesman for the Manchester school district. In a letter from the mayor to the first-term representative, Guinta charged that Scannell’s House vote “permanently and irrevocably harms” Scannell’s ability to serve Manchester’s schools. The mayor further argued Scannell’s resignation is necessary to “help restore the integrity” of district anti-drug policies.

Wow! Somebody please notify the mayor that marijuana possession — even minor offenses — would still be illegal under HB 1623, and that in a democracy we don’t threaten legislators’ ability to earn a living when we disagree with their political viewpoints.

Not even the editorial staff writers at New Hampshire’s largest newspaper are immune from the outbreak, judging by Wednesday’s editorial in the Union Leader, libelously titled “Promoting Pot.” Among the myths printed as fact: “Marijuana is addictive”; “It is a gateway drug to more seriously dangerous narcotics”; and “The bill would likely lead to more drug use and more drug dealing.”

Fortunately, the editorial board of at least one New Hampshire newspaper hasn’t lost its mind. Kudos to the Concord Monitor for maintaining their "reefer sanity" amidst this statewide pandemic.

House right to reduce marijuana penalties
via The Concord Monitor

The consequences of an arrest for even a minute amount of marijuana are serious and can have repercussions for decades. People convicted of possessing marijuana face a year in jail and a lifetime criminal record that could make it difficult to get some jobs. They also lose their eligibility for federal financial aid, a ban that could make attending college difficult and more costly. The punishment, particularly when it is so often given to young people whose judgment is not yet fully formed, is greatly out of proportion with the crime.

The bill makes possession of a quarter ounce of marijuana or less a violation punishable by a $200 fine and confiscation of the drug. It does not legalize marijuana or change the penalties for larger quantities, manufacturing or sale.

At least 11 states have decriminalized the possession of a small amount of marijuana, generally one ounce or less. Oregon did so in 1973. Studies in those states suggest that marijuana usage increases only slightly or not at all. In Great Britain, in fact, after marijuana was decriminalized in 2004, usage went down — the theory being that the drug lost some of its allure for rebellious youth because of its new status.

It makes no sense to make criminals of young people prone to experiment with a drug most experts consider much safer than alcohol. That’s no argument for legalizing marijuana, but it is cause to rethink the state’s criminal penalties. … It takes courage for politicians to vote for a bill that gives their opponents an easy target — even a bill that could remove an obstacle between some teens and college. It’s no surprise that Lynch raced to stop this debate before it got much further.

Read the full editorial here.

Paul Armentano [send him mail] is the senior policy analyst for NORML and the NORML Foundation in Washington, DC. He is the author of "Emerging Clinical Applications for Cannabis and Cannabinoids: A Review of the Scientific Literature" (2007, NORML Foundation).

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