NH: Border-Town Cops Worry About Impact Of Bay State Pot Law


Salem, N.H. – Fireworks, tax-free liquors and big-ticket items New Hampshire residents are used to seeing folks come north looking to take advantage of the Granite State’s looser regulations.

That phenomenon may get flipped on its head Dec. 15, when the possession, use and growing of marijuana becomes legal in Massachusetts, after Bay Staters voted 54-46 percent to legalize recreational use of the federally controlled substance.

Walk the line

After Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, pot tourism companies bloomed to draw visitors to the state, signaling what may become a trend along the Massachusetts and New Hampshire border.

For the states where marijuana is illegal, like New Hampshire, the question becomes a new reality how to enforce a busy, porous border with a state with legal weed.

Lt. John Encarnacao commands the narcotics unit at the New Hampshire State Police, and explained that no protocols have been changed at this point for how the state police respond to marijuana possession or sales.

Encarnacao added visitors have to be smarter and more responsible about their decisions. If the situation worsens significantly with marijuana being brought into the state, state police will reassess responses.

"I haven’t received any changes as to the protocol we utilize up here. Now, going forward, if we see an influx of marijuana into the state, we may have to evaluate how we can do things differently," he added.

Border towns like Salem and Plaistow with busy highway areas, like Routes 28 and 125, have particular reason to be concerned, given the people whose lives take them across the state line and back every day.

Now, both towns may have to contend with more Bay State residents and returning New Hampshire citizens possessing or having smoked marijuana.

Police chiefs in those towns foresee no change in their approach to enforcing the state’s ban on recreational use and possession.

"Honestly, we’re going to continue to enforce the way we’ve always enforced, because it’s still illegal in New Hampshire," Plaistow Police Chief Kathleen Jones said.

"Our enforcement always kicks up a little bit around the holiday season anyway, so the timing could actually be good," she added.

"We are not changing any enforcement strategies," Salem Capt. Joel Dolan said.

Dolan added he would advise both New Hampshire residents and visitors from Massachusetts to be aware that the laws remain the same in the Granite State.

Highs and lows

While the state’s rules remain the same, one future concern for border police departments may be the need for more resources to fight a possible influx of marijuana.

Chief Jones does not anticipate in the short or medium term a need for expanded resources, but, she explained, there may be a need to reassess that question in the future.

"I see the one change to be higher percentages of people taken in for DWI, DUI, or possession," Jones said.

In Salem, Capt. Dolan’s concern is similar; an increase in accidents due to a greater number of people driving under the influence of marijuana.

"A concern with us will be an uptick in motor vehicle accidents," he said, adding that his people will keep doing their best, despite concerns he has about the current, and future, need for resources at the department.

"More accidents could very well be a resource drain on us," he said.

Alan Cronheim, who works on marijuana-related cases at Sisti Law in Lancaster, New Hampshire, believes that one of the big challenges will be how to test whether a driver is "high."

"There’s no standard for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in the law so it’s left to a circle of experts to argue the medical significance of whatever the number happens to be," he said.

Blood tests are a major tool for currently determining one’s THC levels, but the development of field sobriety tests for marijuana, similar to a blood alcohol content test involving motor control, may become more common.


Matt Simon, who covers New England marijuana policy at the Marijuana Policy Project, believes the policy change in Massachusetts will contribute to marijuana laws changes in New Hampshire.

"I think the change has been happening for a long time but the politics have lagged behind in Concord," he said.

Simon explained police already give certain amounts of leeway to those pulled over and found with marijuana.

"We know anecdotally that police officers certainly have the discretion to decide whether they would arrest people for marijuana. Police officers let people go all the time across the country for whatever reason," he said.

Those are just two parts of a broader change in cultural climate around marijuana, which may lead to decriminalization by Governor-elect Chris Sununu during his tenure.

"I’m pretty sure that Governor-elect Sununu is going to be the first governor to win having campaigned on decriminalizing small amounts," he added.

Simon also noted state legislators will finally have the chance to see legalization unfold in real time, which he said will hopefully help end the current system in which massive amounts of resources are wasted in processing marijuana possession and use cases and in which people of color are disproportionately arrested.

For now, across the border, the situation with local retail marijuana is up in the air. In Methuen, Mayor Stephen Zanni has expressed his opposition to having stores for marijuana in the city, according to previous reporting.

In Haverhill, Mayor James Fiorentini noted that it is very early and that he is also concerned about how to test for marijuana in drivers.

"This is way too early although there are some aspects that become legal on Dec.15 we have to wait," he said. "I opposed legalizing marijuana but the people have spoken, so I would be opposed to making Haverhill a dry community."

"The thing that we’re concerned about that the police are concerned about is what happened when people drive under the influence. There is no breathalyzer test," he added.

News Moderator: Katelyn Baker
Full Article: Border-Town Cops Worry About Impact Of Bay State Pot Law
Author: Nicholas Golden
Contact: 978-946-2000
Photo Credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez
Website: Eagle-Tribune