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Pot debate precedes legislative hearings

Union Leader Correspondent

December 05. 2013 6:24PM

PLYMOUTH — Anton Quintana said the issue is clear: Marijuana is safer to use than alcohol, it is responsibly used for recreation by many, and it needs to be legalized because too many people get caught up in the legal system for non-violent pot-related crimes unnecessarily, while people who drink and drive are on the roads endangering fellow travelers.

"If you go to an employer, are you going to be asked 'did you drink anything lately?' No. (But people are asked about marijuana) just because it's criminal now to smoke," Quintana, a sophomore from Hartford, Conn., said Wednesday night at Plymouth State University's Robert Frost Speech and Debate Society debate on the legalization of marijuana in New Hampshire. It's an issue that will be coming before the state Legislature in the coming weeks.

"There's actually jail time for people just smoking some weed," he said.

New Hampshire law says "It is a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess marijuana (including small amounts for personal use) in New Hampshire. Penalties include a fine of up to $2,000, up to one year in jail, or both."

Quintana's debate opponent, junior Russell Mancini of Sanbornton, said the comparison of marijuana to alcohol does not hold water, because marijuana is hazardous to health, criminals smoke it, and it hinders thinking.

"Marijuana makes learning harder, and slows down motor skills," Mancini said before a small audience. "It directly affects the brain up to 28 days after use. Developing brains (in high-school and college-aged students) are especially affected by marijuana."

Mancini repeatedly said that the drug has been shown to be a health hazard.

"Alcohol has been proven to have some medical benefits … with marijuana, there are too many side effects, there are carcinogens in the smoke, and aside from (medical marijuana), marijuana has no health benefits, it's never good for your health."

He also said the comparison to alcohol is bad.

"A big problem is the comparison between the two," he said. "The idea that it's safer or a better alternative to alcohol is flawed thinking."

Quintana disagreed.

"There has never been a major medical study linking marijuana to any major disease," he said. "That's a really, really outdated philosophy."

Quintana noted, in fact, that there has been a lack of anti-marijuana talk coming from the medical community as marijuana usage has increased over the years.

"We haven't had any huge directives saying 'weed is not the way'," he said. "Aside from it being illegal, we haven't seen any problems that need confronting."

Mancini said there is a strong anti-marijuana message from the DARE program in law enforcement.

"Marijuana is addictive, it causes health problems, and it is a gateway drug," he said. "I don't think anyone should be smoking marijuana."

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