Legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana is a hot topic in our state right now. This is a letter that I just sent to our local newspaper on the topic. What are your thoughts about this?
Legalizing marijuana and preventing youth pot use are not competing goals. As someone who has spent many years working in the prevention field I have seen that prevention efforts are usually way too small in scale in comparison to the challenges that they are intended to address. After paying for law enforcement, court costs and jails there is little money left to fund prevention efforts such as after school programs, youth engagement efforts, effective media campaigns about the health risks or to treat addiction.
We made a societal decision long ago that prohibition made the alcohol problem worse. It didn’t stop alcohol use and escalated criminal activity. It is hypocritical that we don’t see this is also true for marijuana use. Marijuana users are no more dangerous than people who use alcohol (perhaps less so) and locking them up has cost our society much more than we have gained. Court, police and jail costs consume increasing amounts of money and lives are unnecessarily ruined when youth can’t attend college because they are no longer eligible for student loans and adults with criminal records can’t get a job. I would feel safer with the state of NH in charge of selling marijuana as it does with alcohol than drug dealers and would see similar laws in effect about legal uses such as age restrictions and OUI laws.
We would get much further in preventing youth pot use as well as treating all addictions if we used the tax revenue from marijuana sales and the savings in police, court and jail budgets to fund prevention efforts and provide addiction treatment. In fact we could make major investments in addiction treatment for alcohol, heroin, prescription drugs, etc. which the police, courts, hospitals and those who have tried to get help for addiction all agree is desperately needed. This in turn would save us even more tax dollars that currently go to pay for the costs of violent crimes, burglaries, health care costs, missed time at work for those who currently can’t get access to treatment. Investing in what we want, healthy youth and productive adults will get us much further than what we are currently doing. Approaching addiction and prevention as a public health issue rather than a criminal issue has proven successful in other places such as Portugal. We are long overdue in considering a similar approach here.