On Feb. 22, the New Hampshire House of Representatives advanced a bipartisan bill — H.B. 639 — to legalize recreational marijuana in a vote of 234 to 127, according to state representative and government professor Russell Muirhead, D-Hanover. The state Senate and Republican Governor Chris Sununu have rejected other recent iterations of the legislation — leaving New Hampshire the only state in New England without a legalization policy, Muirhead said. If passed, however, it is unclear whether legalized recreational use of marijuana will influence student consumption practices.
New Hampshire has been slower than neighboring states in legalizing marijuana because of an “acute” in-state opioid epidemic, with high levels of overdose deaths, according to Muirhead. He explained that many opposed legalization in the state in the past because marijuana is perceived as a gateway drug — but the new legislation is reflective of a changing culture.
“I think that this has been normalized for so long that the effort to criminalize it, or even bring it under the stigma or illegality is bound to fail,” Muirhead said. “It’s like legislating a 55-mile-an-hour speed limit: There are so few people who obey it that it actually causes general disrespect for the law. Pot has been normalized.”
Muirhead said he predicted the state government would fully legalize recreational marijuana by June, citing increased Republican support because the bill places the financial onus — limited to a 15% tax — on weed cultivators. Marijuana has been decriminalized in New Hampshire since September 2017, according to Forbes.
The College has a “broad” marijuana culture, according to a group of three students who spoke with The Dartmouth under the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about marijuana usage on campus.
All three students said that legalization in New Hampshire may not greatly affect students’ purchasing patterns. A member of the Class of 2026 said that buying weed from a dispensary is less accessible than buying from another student on campus.
“For one, a lot of students aren’t 21,” they said. “Getting a Zipcar [to get to a dispensary] is another [problem], even if you are 21. And driving around with that weed is also a little iffy. I think it’s easier to pick up from someone on campus. Since they’re an Ivy League student, you know they’re chill.”
The member of the Class of 2026 said an eighth of an ounce is typically sold for $25 by students on campus. The Tea House — a dispensary in White River Junction — sells the same amount for $40 to $50, according to retail associate Sadik DeFour.
Though some students buy or distribute from regulated dispensaries in bordering states, other students may not know the original source of the marijuana they smoke, instead choosing to buy from a student dealer on campus or an Upper Valley community member, according to the students. DeFour, however, warned against using marijuana from these unregulated sources, explaining that buying from a dispensary is a much safer alternative.
“You know what you’re buying,” DeFour said. “[Buying from a dispensary] might be a little more expensive than it is if you were to just get it from some guy, but a lot of people don’t really care about that and would much rather know what they’re buying.”
In order to prevent being detected while smoking weed, students sometimes also tamper with their fire alarms so they can smoke inside their rooms, according to the member of the Class of 2026.
Smoking inside a dorm is a greater safety concern than possession of small quantities of cannabis, according to Director of Safety and Security Keiselim Montás.
“The greatest concern is that they are smoking in the room, regardless of what they are smoking,” Montás said. “[Possession of cannabis] will be entirely up to the student because personal consumption of marijuana has been decriminalized in the state.”
Though Safety and Security would have no reason to report possession of a small amount of marijuana to the police, according to Montás, the penalties for being caught buying or selling weed would be “great” and “immediately a criminal violation.”
Montás said that, if caught buying or selling, a student would be reported to the police and punished by the College — though he did not elaborate on what consequences from the College would entail. According to the College’s Alcohol and Drug Policy, consequences for violations of the student drug policy can range from reprimands to “separation from the College.”
The “underground” student engagement with weed is distinct from the rest of the Upper Valley community, where users buy marijuana from dispensaries, according to DeFour. Smoking marijuana — in a safe and regulated way — is essential to the culture of the area, according to Vermont National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws director Nick Schuermann and DeFour.
“Vermont definitely has a very strong weed culture,” Schuermann said. “We have the image of being a very hippie state… It should not be stigmatized. It should be appreciated.”
Weed culture is similarly strong at the College, but maybe not for being a “hippie” community. Students said that drinking culture is essential to Greek life, meaning that Dartmouth is “not a stoner school,” according to a member of the Class of 2025. Yet, weed offers an important — and largely accepted — alternative to the “male-dominated” social spaces on campus which revolve around drinking culture, according to the member of the Class of 2026 and the member of the Class of 2023.
“[Drinking culture is] definitely tied up in the frats,” the member of the Class of 2026 said. “There are a lot of people who are outside of frats — I would say a lot of freshmen — who like to smoke.”
According to the member of the Class of 2023, smoking marijuana is a healthier alternative to a culture where “everyone drinks.”
“In recent years, it has been found that alcohol is more detrimental to health than weed,” the member of the class of 2025 said. “More people in our generation are realizing that, and so people who are more health-conscious might smoke weed but not drink.”
Regardless of motivation or legality, students will smoke, Muirhead said. Students at the College find ways to access weed because they are saturated in pressure and competition, he added.
“This is an ambition culture, it’s not a weed culture,” Muirhead said. “I think it’s really kind of a hard work culture that creates a need to relax.”