Add New Hampshire Democrat Governor Maggie Hassan to the growing list of elected officials and political pundits who refer to their past use of marijuana as a rite of passage, but view others’ present use of cannabis as criminal behavior deserving of arrest, potential jail time, a criminal record and the lifelong stigma that accompanies it.
“Legalizing marijuana won’t help us address our substance use challenge. Experience and data suggests it will do just the opposite,” Gov. Hassan claimed during her State of the State address. Her statement did not come as a surprise. The Governor last year killed provisions in the state’s nascent medical marijuana law allowing for qualified patients to grow their own pot. Most recently, she threatened to veto legislation approved by the New Hampshire House of Representatives to regulate the adult consumption, commercial production, and retail sale of the herb.
What did come as a surprise, however, was the Governor’s most recent acknowledgment of having personally experimented with pot. “I was in college. I tried it,” she said during an interview with a local television station. “But things have changed.”
Yes Governor, things have changed. Today, the majority of the American public, as well as the majority of New Hampshire voters, believes that society should regulate the consumption of cannabis by adults rather than criminalize it. Yet Gov. Hassan, who despite her acknowledged lawbreaking behavior was fortunate enough to not among the 20 million Americans arrested for pot offenses since the early 1970s, would rather stand against the majority of her constituents than join them in supporting such common sense reforms.
She’s hardly alone. In recent weeks, syndicated columnists David Brooks and Ruth Markus both penned columns reminiscing about their past pot use only to conclude that they believe the plant should remain illegal for everybody else. And last week Presidential contender Marco Rubio (R-FL) – an ardent Congressional opponent of liberalizing marijuana penalties -- refused to answer questions regarding whether he had ever smoked weed, stating: "If I tell you that I haven't, you won't believe me. And if I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, 'Well, I can smoke marijuana because look how he made it.'"
Nonetheless, it may be Hassan whose public stance remains the most confounding. “I do not believe that a young person with a substance problem should end up in jail, prison or with a criminal record on their first offense,” Hassan has said. Yet, under present New Hampshire law, that is precisely what happens to those who violate the state’s anti-pot statutes. (Under the law, the possession of any amount marijuana is classified as a criminal misdemeanor punishable by up to one-year incarceration and a $2,000 fine, while the sale of any amount of pot is classified as a felony punishable by up to three years in prison and a $25,000 fine.) In fact, according to a 2013 ACLU report, the Granite State ranked 23rd out of 51 states (including Washington, DC) in per-capita pot possession arrests. Nonetheless, Gov. Hassan offered no political support last year to House-enacted legislation decriminalizing pot possession offenses. (The measure ultimately died in the Senate.) Similarly, she has remained mum on a similar decriminalization measure pending in the 2014 legislature. With former tokers like these, who needs enemies?
Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and he is the co-author of the book “Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?”