New Hampshire should legalize recreational marijuana

Prohibition nationwide lasted from 1920 to 1933, because of alcohol-related problems and family violence. 

People wanted to address morals and health and religion, but criminals gained control of the beer and liquor supply, allowing smugglers, rum runners and speakeasies on the black market to flourish. The 18th Amendment which instated Prohibition also lowered government tax income as law enforcement agencies became overwhelmed.

Smugglers brought in liquor from Canada through ships off our foreign registry shores. Three miles off the coast, they loaded liquor to smaller vessels that delivered it to our shores. New Hampshire citizens shared in this illegal activity, as rum runners would wait outside Hampton-Seabrook Harbor for a signal light from the Seabrook beach cupola and the old country store. A green light meant the bootleggers could proceed. A red light indicated that federal agents were in the area, and to not proceed.

Hampton Beach folks as well were participating in illegal practices. An Ocean Boulevard property housed a small bar downstairs about 8 by 10 feet in size with a counter and stools and the necessary equipment hidden behind a panel wall. Folklore said many of the prominent office holders in Hampton were aware and occasionally visitors to the site. In Lawrence, Massachusetts, funeral hearses transporting bodies from Canada would also carry loads of liquor tucked into the casket.

Prohibition ended in 1933, and the New Hampshire Liquor Commission was established in 1934. The once-prohibited product, alcohol, now produces sales in excess of $765 million annually to underwrite costs of running state programs.

Today the practice of marijuana use is being debated. The use of derivatives of cannabis have proven to allow many New Hampshire citizens to alleviate their pain, whether it be migraine headaches, neuralgia or anxiety, and the effects are currently allowed by law for medical use only.

Stores in neighboring states have been able to sell products recreationally, and the present discussion to make cannabis legal or not in New Hampshire recreationally is now on the table. Like in Prohibition, law enforcement agencies today do not have adequate resources to spend on chasing users of cannabis. Currently, so-called “weed” products are still being sold to users in New Hampshire, the quality of which and the sources is very questionable.

As was the case with the prohibition of liquor, the time is now when state law should legalize marijuana under strict regulations. I’m urging the governor and our legislators to look closely at recreational cannabis as a source of revenue to address our state’s many costs. The Granite State could benefit from millions of dollars in new tax revenue, which could be used to address problems of opioid addiction and mental illness by our state health organizations, to have the funds to address their intended purpose.

The Legislature could establish proper rules and regulations and enforce laws such as current DWIs to punish abusers. The state of New Hampshire already has commissioned liquor stores at the gateway to the Granite State on every major highway. Likewise, cannabis could be controlled with proper guidelines.

Bob Preston is a former long-term state senator and Democratic leader from the Seacoast.

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