Federal Anti-Drug Office Says Mass. Pot Shops Will Pose Challenges - Even in N.H.

Jun 5, 2018

Ed Shemelya, coordinator of the National Marijuana Initiative, speaks to the New Hampshire commission studying marijuana legalization June 4, 2018.
Credit Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The commission studying marijuana legalization in New Hampshire is watching Massachusetts as pot shops become legal there on July 1.

Ed Shemelya says it could present some unique challenges—even in the Granite State.

Shemeleya is coordinator of the National Marijuana Initiative, a federal anti-drug effort focused on marijuana data. He addressed the study commission on behalf of the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas program, established by the White House office of National Drug Control Policy.

“Without a doubt it’s going to pose challenges,” he said after testifying Monday. “When you are actually an island surrounded by states that have legalized this drug, it does present some unique challenges, not only for law enforcement, but for government in general.”

Shemelya credited New Hampshire with engaging in a thorough study of the issues, everything from youth usage rates to the black market. One of his slides listed the top ten states where the highest percentage of 18 to 25 year-olds reported using marijuana in the past month. In 2016, New Hampshire ranked seventh, at 28 percent; down from fourth in 2015.

A big problem, he says, is that there is a lack of data on the impact of legalization.

Shemelya, a retired Kentucky state trooper, says the U.S. is probably another five to seven years from having enough statistics to establish data in a similar fashion as alcohol. One challenge is getting information from states and school districts.

He says his role is to promote facts to the commission, and not to tell the commission what to do regarding potential legalization. Still, he let it known what he thinks of what he called America’s “insatiable appetite” for illegal drugs.

“To me,” he said, “our greatest threat to our nation’s national security isn’t that nut in North Korea, or ISIS, or ISIL, whatever you want to call it. It’s the fact that this country is gravitating toward illicit drugs in all shape, form, and fashion, to either not feel or to feel.”

The New Hampshire commission continues to meet regularly and accept testimony from critics and advocates alike. It is scheduled to file its report by Nov. 1.

In related news, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley announced his support for marijuana legalization and including language to that effect in his party's platform.

Advocates for legalization, like state Rep. Renny Cushing, D-Hampton, contend recreational marijuana should be regulated like alcohol in New Hampshire. Cushing says that being surrounded by states that have legalized weed for adult use will only serve to raise awareness and, he says, lead to an eventual lifting of the prohibition.