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Jan 26, 2016 5:23 PM

Landrigan: NH pot decriminalization effort kicks off again; could opioid epidemic hamper efforts?

CONCORD - Valerie Morgan, with the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, takes no position on whether to decriminalize marijuana.

"I just feel it’s a slippery slope especially when it comes to our youth," she said.

But advocates trying for 17 years insist it’s time.

"Prohibition has failed and what we need to do is treat marijuana the way we do alcohol," said state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, a co-sponsor of the measure.

Supporters want to make New Hampshire the last state in New England to make possession of up to a half ounce of marijuana not a crime but a violation.

The state Senate nearly passed its own compromise last spring. Senators got hung up on a provision regarding a database containing the names of students with drug convictions that would potentially jeopardize student loans.

The bill’s prime author believes that dust up is history now.

"It’s easy for things to be overblown. I would say cooler heads would prevail this time," said state Rep. Adam Schroadter, R-Newmarket.

But a not so funny thing happened on the way to this breakthrough - a heroin and fentanyl epidemic killing 400 this year.

Opponents maintain you can get hooked on pot.

"One out of six teens may want to disagree with you and say marijuana is indeed addictive," said Susan McGowan a longtime pediatric nurse.

And Dover youth advocates maintain its impact is not benign.

"Marijuana is an unsafe and unpredictable substance. It has many of the same consequences associated with smoking tobacco including lung damage and potential disease," said Ava Dobson.

The sponsor insists this will lead to more money to fight the real drug crisis.

"Freeing up resources to combat the opioid crisis is a huge portion of what this bill is all about," Schroadter added.

There aren’t scores of people dying from marijuana overdose, but decriminalizing any drug while you are fighting an opioid epidemic - those may not be the best optics.

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