Concord Monitor: Marijuana ban failing just as Prohibition did

by Matt Simon, Jan. 30

The hearing on HB 1623, the bill to reduce penalties for marijuana possession, made for some interesting drama in the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee.

The most eye-opening statement came from Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency, president of the New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police. Morency claimed that "87 to 90 percent of our crime rate is directly related to drugs and alcohol." This mention of drugs and alcohol in the same breath got the attention of Democratic Rep. Timothy Robertson of Keene. Robertson asked Morency if, following the logic of marijuana prohibition, he would be in favor of reinstituting alcohol prohibition.

To the astonishment of virtually everybody in the room, Morency didn't say no. "Knowing what it (alcohol) causes to families, I certainly would consider it," he said. "But I can't go there - it's something that's legal now, and we have a huge financial burden as a result of it."

I hope Morency is alone among New Hampshire police chiefs in his unfortunate misunderstanding of history. Alcohol prohibition was one of the most disastrous social policy failures in U.S. history. The financial burden of policing the newly created black market proved exponentially higher than the financial burden of enforcing legitimate laws governing reckless and aggressive behavior. The taxation and regulation of alcohol has been a great success in New Hampshire and the United States. The problems caused by irresponsible drinkers are dealt with by law enforcement, violent gangs no longer control any piece of the alcohol market, and the term "police corruption" is no longer associated with alcohol.

Despite the fact that alcohol is a dangerous drug, a drug strongly associated with assaults, domestic violence and severely impaired driving, the people of New Hampshire know better than to believe government has any right to stop adults from drinking. Many members of the law enforcement and criminal justice community have come to understand that prohibition is a failure for marijuana as well (a less dangerous drug, by any honest scientific standard), and the organization known as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition is growing by leaps and bounds.

We hope to one day convince the chiefs of police and others in the law enforcement and criminal justice community that marijuana prohibition simply creates more problems than it solves. In the meantime, I expect the people of New Hampshire would appreciate some assurance that the individuals who enforce New Hampshire's laws do not secretly covet a return to the violent, crime and corruption-ridden days of alcohol prohibition.

 

(Matt Simon is executive director of the New Hampshire Coalition for Common Sense Marijuana Policy.)

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