Just as House Bill 656, a bill which would legalize recreational marijuana in the state of New Hampshire, passed the NH House with a 207-139 vote on Tuesday, Governor Chris Sununu told Seacoastonline the bill is “definitely not something that I’m supportive of right now.”
Governor Sununu cited NH’s ongoing opioid crisis, and his concern that marijuana legalization may encourage drug use as reasons why he is not currently in support of the bill.
But the concerns Governor Sununu expressed about supporting HB656 run contrary to the data available about opioid deaths and drug use in states that have already legalized marijuana.
Studies that have examined both opioid deaths and drug use in Colorado show they both declined after the state legalized recreational marijuana.
“We’re in the middle of one of the biggest drug crises the state has ever seen”
NH is suffering from a drug crisis, but it is an opioid crisis, not a cannabinoid or marijuana crisis. There is also no evidence to suggest that marijuana has contributed to NH’s opioid crisis.
Contrary to Governor Sununu’s concern, the data available indicates that legalizing marijuana actually leads to fewer opioid deaths.
According to the Washington Post, a study done by the American Journal of Public Health shows that opioid related deaths decreased by 6% in Colorado in the two years following the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state.
Opiod-related deaths in Oregon also dropped after marijuana legalization, from 522 in 2014 to 506 in 2016, according to the CDC.
“Full legalization may add to the state’s opioid epidemic by encouraging drug use”
The fear that marijuana legalization will lead to more opioid drug abuse is just another form of the antiquated and stubbornly pervasive myth that marijuana is a “gateway drug,” which has long been scientifically debunked.
Governor Sununu’s concerns about marijuana legalization encouraging opioid drug use also do not reconcile with the data available.
Not only have opioid deaths declined in marijuana-legal states like Colorado, but adolescent drug and alcohol use have also declined. A new federal survey highlighted in the Washington Post shows opioid use dropped in Colorado after recreational legalization, and teen use of alcohol, tobacco, and heroin also declined.
Governor Sununu’s statement on HB656 seems to have left the door open for him to come around to supporting the bill. Since taking office in 2017, Governor Sununu signed HB640 into law, which decriminalized three-quarters of an ounce of marijuana, and also HB157 and HB160, adding moderate to severe chronic pain and PTSD to New Hampshire’s Therapeutic Cannabis program.
Hopefully Governor Sununu will take the time to educate himself further, and review the studies and data available to make the right decision for the people of NH, 68% of which support marijuana legalization, according to a 2016 University of New Hampshire poll.