Pubdate: Sun, 24 Feb 2013
Source: Foster's Daily Democrat (Dover, NH)
Copyright: 2013 Geo. J. Foster Co.


As the saying goes, there is nothing certain other than death and 
taxes. However, there are things that may be inevitable. Such has 
been the drive to recognize gay marriage and to come to terms with 
the notion that abortion is here to stay.

But the list doesn't necessarily end there.

Now with a handful of bills getting due consideration in the New 
Hampshire Legislature to legalize the use of marijuana, we have to 
wonder if inevitability has grabbed hold now that the "flower power" 
generation is taking charge.

State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt tells us that by a 16-3 vote the House 
Criminal Justice Committee voted to retain House Bill 492 regarding 
the legalization and regulation of marijuana. That means, says 
Vaillancourt, the committee will hold the bill for work over the 
summer for study, as opposed to outright killing it. Meanwhile two 
other attempts to legalize pot are pending.

Were New Hampshire an island unto itself, we would be slow to suggest 
that some level of legalization is in the offing. But like other 
trends once thought unthinkable, the notion of tolerance and 
acceptance of personal pot use is growing nationwide. In 
Massachusetts, it is a violation - like getting a traffic ticket. 
Last year the states of Washington and Colorado signed off on legal 
pot use and more are expected to follow suit.

As Rolling Stone put it: "The Berlin Wall of pot prohibition seems to 
be crumbling before our eyes."

According to author Tim Dickinson, "As many as 58 percent of 
Americans now believe marijuana should be legal. And our political 
establishment is catching on. Former President Jimmy Carter came out 
this month (December 2012) and endorsed taxed-and-regulated weed. 
'I'm in favor of it,' Carter said. 'I think it's OK.'"

Even the Obama administration has seemingly taken recreational pot 
use off the agenda at the federal level, telling 20/20s Barbara 
Walters, "We've got bigger fish to fry."

The words written here are not being used to advocate legalization. 
But there needs to be a serious conversation that hopefully HB 492 
and other bills will foster. A number of those issues were touched 
upon during testimony by Richard N. Van Wickler, superintendent of 
the Cheshire County Department of Corrections (although he did not 
testify in that capacity). Among the questions he sought to address were:

Is what we are doing effective toward creating a drug free society, 
which is the stated mission of our drug laws?

Has crime been reduced because of our current policies?

Are we safer as a community because of our current policies?

Are the costs of incarceration and surveillance justified?

The issue of incarceration, in particular, hits home here in New 
Hampshire as the Legislature and governor consider hiring a private 
firm to run a men's prison and ponder the fate of a $38 million state 
women's prison included in Gov. Maggie Hassan's budget. Also of 
concern is a lack of unified standards from one county to the next in 
prosecuting marijuana offenses, a notion given the nod by one 
Corrections Department official with which we spoke on background.

All in all, there is much to be hashed out by the Legislature and a 
generation of voters which appears to be more libertarian when it 
comes to drug laws. To that end we urge the Legislature to truly 
study the goals of HB 492 other bills looking to address many of the 
thorny issues raised by Wickler and others.

Editor's Note: Readers will find Richard N. Van Wickler's testimony 
accompanying this editorial at
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