By a vote of 16-3, the House Criminal Justice Committee today voted to retain House Bill 492 regarding the legalization and regulation of marijuana. That means the committee will hold the bill for work over the summer. Among the three voting against the retain motion was one person who favors passage right now. Thus, only two committee members were expressing outright opposition to the concept of legalization.
Two other legalization bills are pending before the committee and have not yet been acted upon. HB492 received an early vote because with taxation as part of the legalization procedure, it had fiscal ramifications and would have required work by a second committee (in House terminology, it was an "early bill"). It might not raise as much revenue as Governor Hassan's gambling plan, but the 15 perecent tax would generate millions...without nearly as much harm as gambling would inflict upon our society! And yes, I do support gambling, albeit not a monopolized version.
Since HB492 is modeled after the initiative passed by Colorado voters 55-45 percent last November, we really need to see what the feds decide to do there and in the state of Washington. Several other provisions undoubtedly need work before any passage would be likely here, so the retain motion (it was in fact my motion) was the best of all possible worlds for proponents of either decriminalization or legalization.
As promised here last week, I have received the written testimony from Cheshire County Corrections Superintendent Richard Van Wickler, a supporter of the bill as part of LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition). In a communication to me today, Mr. Van Wickler suggested that we might be able to get people from the national level here this summer. With so many law enforcement types against legalization, I find it refreshing to see this sentiment from someone on the other side (my side of course).
Here's the Van Wickler testimony in its entirety. It's worth a read, not only because he talks about what the bill would do but also because he shoots down several of the myths opponents continue to set forth.
Testimony of Richard N. Van Wickler
Cheshire County New Hampshire
Mr. Chairman, Honorable committee, my name is Richard Van Wickler. I am a life long resident of NH and have served the last 24 years in law enforcement and continue to do so as the Superintendent of the Cheshire County Department of Corrections. I DO NOT represent Cheshire County here today. I have taken vacation to be here in order to testify as a member of LAW ENFORCEMENT AGAINST PROHIBITION. LEAP is a non-profit organization consisting of Law Enforcement Officers, Judges and Corrections Professionals who oppose the current “War on Drugs” policy.
House Bill 492 is smart and responsible legislation and I speak in favor of this Bill.
To begin my testimony, it must be clear that I DO NOT advocate the use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana or non-prescribed drugs.
This discussion, and this Bill, is about our drug policy and the effects of that policy. In considering drug policy in our State and in our Nation, we must ask ourselves the following questions:
- Is what we are doing effective toward creating a drug free society, which is the stated mission of our drug laws?
- Has crime been reduced because of our current policies?
- Are we safer as a community because of our current policies?
- Are the costs of incarceration and surveillance justified?
Criminal justice policy should be about promoting public safety and preventing crime. Our current policies do NOT achieve this. In my study of Drug War policy I utilize government-produced data that was funded by our tax dollars and also reputable research from widely accepted sources to reach my conclusion. As for a policy that protects our citizens consider that each year in the U.S. alone:
Tobacco kills 435,000 people
- Poor diet and physical inactivity kill 365,000 people
- Alcohol kills 85,000
- Motor vehicle crashes kill over 26,000
- The illicit use of illegal drugs kills 17,000
(Journal of American Medicine 2004)
The Drug Enforcement Agency has indicated that 75% of Gang War violence is over “illegal drug market place” disputes. The violence associated with drug use in our Country is not because of the substances but because of the PROHIBITION of those substances.
The U.S. incarcerates more people than any other Country having 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s inmates. We now have 2.7 million behind bars and over 7 million people in our correctional system. Consider that 114 million Americans have admitted to using an illegal drug in their lifetime and 34 million have admitted to using in the last 12 months. The majority, by far, is for the use of marijuana. Taking this in to consideration and assuming that we can “arrest our way out of this” – then we must increase our National jail bed space of 2.4 million jail beds to at least 35 million jail beds! Unfortunately, our current correctional system has become one that we can no longer afford.
A vote in favor of this Bill does the following:
1. It is a vote to end discrimination against harmless people
2.. It is a vote to put illegal drug dealers out of business
3. It is a vote to reduce crime
4. It is a vote to increase public safety
5. It is a vote to more wisely spend criminal justice resources
6. It is a vote to earn revenue that is fair and widely accepted among the constituency
7. It is a vote that is responsible and smart, which is based on solid evidence
8. It is a vote that will greatly assist in keeping it OUT of the hands of minors because it is regulated and controlled and more difficult for minors to access.
A vote in FAVOR of this Bill DOES NOT do the following:
1. It DOES NOT endorse the use of drugs any more than we currently endorse the use of alcohol or tobacco
2. It WILL NOT increase the use of drugs by individuals who currently have no desire to use it
Retired Judge James Gray of Orange County California said that his three decades on the front lines of this issue has convinced him that our approach is not working and that our marijuana policy must change in order to achieve the following goals:
- · Reduce marijuana consumption by children
- · Stop or reduce the violence and corruption that accompanies the growing and distribution of marijuana
- · Stop or reduce crime both by people trying to get money to purchase marijuana and by those under its influence
- · Reduce the harm to people who consume marijuana
- · Reduce the number of people we must put into our jails and prisons
Latest polls show that 76% of the constituency and 67% of our Nation’s Police Chiefs agree with this.
In the interest of time – I won’t go on with the endless list of unsubstantiated reasons that opponents will give. I will tell you that there is no evidence to support the claims that they make.
In summary, our Country will spend approximately 88 Billion dollars this year in yet another attempt to create a drug free society and we will fail. When we incarcerate a rapist, bank robber or other “mala in se” criminal, the crimes that they were committing stop, hence the incapacitation effect of incarceration. When we incarcerate a drug dealer, we simply create a job opportunity for another individual who will step in and keep the illegal supply and unregulated revenue stream coming in.
Our policies on Drugs should seek to reduce death, disease, crime and addiction. Our current policies achieve none of these goals. This legislation goes a long way toward reducing all of the current harms associated with prohibition.
Please consider the facts and honor the evidence.
As a voter I am hopeful that anyone, be it the House, Senate or Governor, in opposition to this Bill will do the responsible thing and provide solid and sound reasoning for his or her actions. To just say “NO” is ineffective and irresponsible to the citizens of New Hampshire.
This is responsible legislation, and I encourage its passage.
Thank you for the privilege to testify before you today.
Richard N. Van Wickler