Last Friday, January 17, 2014, the state of New Hampshire published a press release regarding the dangers of marijuana (cannabis). In this press release they claim that 9.6% of youth aged 12-17 had reported regular use of cannabis. Joe Harding, the director of the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services (BDAS) is quoted using the words “disturbing” and “alarming” and goes on to say, “This underscores the need for us to collaborate with not only our partners in the field, but also businesses, law enforcement, the medical field, and schools to implement proven strategies to prevent youth use of marijuana.”
I would like to point out that, according to the Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services publication, New Hampshire State Epidemiological Profile of Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Health they provide the number of 12-17 year olds who reported having participated in binge drinking within the past month at 11%, more than had tried cannabis in the same time frame. I would like to point out that this 11% is for those that claimed to have participated in binge drinking. Binge drinking is not only use, but abuse, of alcohol.
Taking a closer look at these two substances, I would like to compare their dangers as well. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the mortality rate linked to alcohol consumption was 15,990 related to alcoholic liver disease and another 25,692 related to alcohol induced deaths — excluding alcohol related accidents and homicides in 2010. There were no deaths at all listed as being caused by cannabis. Not a single one.
The BDAS reports that between 2001 and 2006, between 35% and over 45% of motor vehicle crashes were related to alcohol consumption. While, according to Epidemiologic Reviews, published by Oxford University Publications, “Some studies indicate that marijuana use alone has minimal effect on driving performance, while others report an increased crash risk when combined with other drugs”.
I would think that the imperative phrase there would be “when combined with other drugs”. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol poisoning occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions — such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control — begin to shut down. Symptoms of alcohol poisoning include confusion; difficulty remaining conscious; vomiting; seizures; trouble with breathing; slow heart rate; clammy skin; dulled responses, such as no gag reflex (which prevents choking); and extremely low body temperature. Alcohol poisoning is fairly common and can cause death.
There is no such thing as marijuana poisoning. It is physically impossible to over dose on cannabis. Alcohol is directly related to many of today’s social issues, such as domestic violence, bar fights, and date rape. Cannabis is not linked to any of these.
In comparing these two substances, some might claim that the increased dangers of alcohol are related to its legality. That is simply not true. Legal or not, alcohol is deadly and addictive. Illegal or not, cannabis is not. We face the realities of the dangers of alcohol every day, yet we have seen no legislation introduced that would criminalize its use or possession for adults aged 21 or over. We don’t see the state trying to take away the rights of adults to consume alcohol for a variety of reasons. The first being that we know from history that prohibition does not work. Second, we know that adults should be free to make their own choices, for their own bodies. Thirdly, we know that the best, most effective approach in reducing the dangers of alcohol abuse, is through education, not criminalization.
By taking the stance that cannabis, a far less dangerous substance than already legal substances like alcohol, tobacco and prescription pills, should be criminalized, the state is losing credibility with a growing number of the population day by day.
The state of New Hampshire maintains a Bureau of Drug and Alcohol Services to fund evidence-based programs and strategies across the spectrum of prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery. This includes responsible server training through the NH Bureau of Liquor Enforcement, educational and intervention programs promoted by the NH Dept. of Education, intervention programs for service men and women and their families supported by the New Hampshire National Guard, and various other educational outreach programs.
The state’s strategy included the funding of approximately 27 prevention providers who were delivering evidence-based direct prevention and early-intervention services to selective and indicated populations through June 30, 2011. Contracts with 26 of these 27 providers ended June 30, 2011, due to state budget reductions and prioritizations, according to the publication released by the NH BDAS, referenced earlier in this letter.
Devon Chaffee, the NHCLU’s executive director, shared the following with Criminal Justice and Public Safety: “the ACLU’s 2013 report on marijuana arrests found that New Hampshire spent $6,526,364 on enforcing marijuana possession laws in 2010 alone.” If, according to the NHBDAS, and the Governor’s Commission on Alcohol and Other Drug Prevention, Intervention and Treatment, the most effective strategy to reduce substance abuse is through education, and the majority of prevention providers had their contracts eliminated due to budget restrictions, wouldn’t it make more sense to redirect that $6,526,324 from prosecution to education?
I urge you to look at the evidence, research for yourself for the true dangers of cannabis. Compare it to alcohol, which is legal and regulated by the state of New Hampshire. Once you acknowledge the fact that cannabis is not as dangerous as alcohol, and is in fact a safer alternative, I urge you to vote yes on HB 492. Allow adults the legal option to choose a safer alternative. Redirect the funds used on prosecuting people for a personal choice for their own bodies, to a more effective prevention method — education.