The issue of drugs is a major concern in New Hampshire, which is currently experiencing an epidemic of opiate addiction, much like the rest of the country. And Republican candidates are saying marijuana is big part of the problem, a great concern to legalization advocates who say that science clearly shows marijuana is not an addictive, gateway drug.

In the preparation for today's Republican and Democratic primaries, the Concord Monitor started a changepolitics.org initiative asking readers to submit and vote on questions for the Republican presidential candidates. One of the questions came from the Marijuana Policy Project:

"If elected, how would your administration address the current tension between state and federal marijuana laws?"

A few candidates were quick to link cannabis to the state's opiate epidemic. Here are their responses:

1. Marco Rubio

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The Florida senator - who is a distant second place to Trump in the New Hampshire race according to CNN's Feb. 8 Poll of Polls - made the strongest alleged connection between cannabis and addiction:

"Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and federal law should be enforced. I'm not in favor of the legalization of another intoxicant. When you legalize something, you send the message that it's not that harmful. And drugs are harmful. Today, too many New Hampshirites are paying a terrible price for drug abuse. It's taking its toll in health costs, broken families and, far too often, lost lives. However, as I've said before, I'm open to medicinal uses of marijuana assuming it goes through the appropriate FDA channels."

2. John Kasich

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The Ohio governor, who placed fourth in CNN's New Hampshire poll, also thinks that legalization will only exacerbate the country's struggle with addiction:

"I oppose the legalization of drugs that are currently illegal. You have to consider the drug crisis New Hampshire and the rest of the country are currently facing."

3. Chris Christie

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The New Jersey governor, who currently sits fifth in CNN's New Hampshire poll, used the question to reiterate his stance on the War on Drugs:

"As president I would enforce the federal drug laws in states that currently allow people to sell marijuana legally. I will crack down and not permit it. I have been clear that I do not support the legalization of marijuana and consider it a gateway drug."

Those comments might seem tangential, but the "gateway drug theory" argues that using cannabis makes people prone to becoming addicted to harder drugs such as heroin. So the connection between cannabis and New Hampshire's opiate epidemic is at least implied by Christie's remarks.

Cannabis is an 'exit' drug, not a 'gateway' one

Matt Simon, the New England Political Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Civilized that Rubio, Kasich and Christie are woefully backward on the cannabis issue. It's not a gateway drug for harder drugs, he says:

"It's hard for a lot of politicians to re-examine what we've been doing on drug policy.For decades they've been blaming the problem on marijuana calling it a gateway drug. But it's becoming apparent that people addicted to opiates developed from abusing painkillers. Approximately 80-90 percent of opioid addictions begin with a prescription. Marijuana in many cases helps people get off heroin. It's an exit drug."

SImon's claim is supported by expert sources like the National Institute on Drug Abuse, who found that nearly 80 percent of heroin addicts used prescription opioids prior to heroin.

Last July, the Mayo Clinic published a study that found approximately 25 percent of patients given prescription painkillers became longterm users.

The Center for Lawful Access and Abuse Deterrence offers many statistics supporting the argument that opioid abuse often begins with abusing prescription drugs.

The real gateway to drug addiction, Simon suggests, is that patients have easy access to opioids, rather than a safer drug like cannabis:

"Even in many states that have legalized medical marijuana, it's far easier to be prescribed opiates than medicinal cannabis. Even though there is no fatal dose for cannabis. I see it as a moral imperative to see that all patients in all 50 states have access to this safer alternative to opioids."

h/t Huffington Post, CNN

banner image: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com