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Opinion: Are Gov. Chris Christie’s Pot Policies ‘Beyond Stupidity’?

That’s how Christie characterized the beliefs of those who support legalization and taxation of marijuana use for adults. Is this the pot calling the kettle black?

potter
Credit: Amanda Brown
R. William Potter

As if to solidify his reputation as one of the worst governors in modern New Jersey history, Chris Christie in a speech on May 1 to the New Jersey Hospital Association castigated legislative proposals to legalize, regulate, and tax private, adult-marijuana use as “beyond stupidity.” 

Although the push for legalization is bipartisan, Christie harshly singled out only Democrats, fingering them for “bringing this poison to our kids” in craven pursuit of “blood money” gained from taxing the regulated sale of cannabis — despite the voter-approved initiatives legalizing and taxing pot in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, as well as our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.  

Displaying anew his distaste for civility, Christie rampaged against “people like (Democrats) Nick Scutari and Steve Sweeney and Phil Murphy (who) want to bring this poison, legalized into the state … Then why not legalize heroin? Let’s legalize cocaine! Let’s legalize angel dust. Let’s legalize all of it. What’s the difference?”

(Note: Sen. Scutari has introduced S-3195 to establish a licensing system for cannabis sale, limit possession to 1 ounce, and retain the prohibition on growing it at home. Although hearings have not been scheduled, Scutari in interviews said he hopes to have his bill passed in time to hand it off to the next governor, widely projected to be a Democrat.)

In his speech, Christie repeats the tired old slippery-slope argument perfected by the likes of the National Rifle Association, which warns that any restriction on firearms — even limits on weapon sales to the dangerously mentally ill — must lead inevitably to the day when government agents seize all weapons.

To answer the governor’s question, “What’s the difference?” let’s start with the fact that marijuana is virtually harmless for adults, especially when compared to those legal drugs, cigarettes and alcohol, that together account for more than 400,000 fatalities and countless illnesses every year. No one has ever died from a cannabis overdose. And no one has ever contracted HIV from sharing a joint. 

Christie’s main claim is the discredited myth that marijuana, even if not harmful in itself, is a gateway drug that will inevitably drag even a casual user down a spiral into addiction to the hard drugs cited by Christie.

The facts tell a different story. More than 40 percent of U.S. adults admit to having smoked a joint or two or more in their lifetimes, typically while in college and before assuming their roles as regular jobholders and parents. But less than 1 percent of those users have gone on to get hooked on hard drugs.

To be sure, as explained in the Economist (“Is Marijuana a Gateway Drug?”), a National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) report found that “about two-thirds” of hard drug users “began with marijuana … But then, it’s also a fact that most heroin addicts had previously tried chocolate.”

So, is chocolate another gateway drug?

No causal connection

In brief, there is no causal connection between enjoying a joint in the privacy of one’s home while listening to music or munching on chocolate chip cookies and moving inexorably down a littered path to heroin or cocaine or meth abuse.

Full disclosure: I was a weekend smoker during my senior college year at Princeton in the late 1960s and an even less frequent user while in law school in the 1970s, including a Sunday afternoon arguing politics while sharing a joint with a conservative Republican legislator to be. Not since attending a New Year’s party in the 1980s — populated by attorneys and legislative staffers, Republicans and Democrats — have I smoked the stuff.

Most important, like 99 per cent of recreational pot users, I did not move on to any of the hard drugs cited by Christie, but since then I did learn to enjoy a cold beer on a hot day or a glass of wine with dinner. So you might say I moved on to the soft stuff.   

Quick relief

Indeed, far from being a harmful drug, cannabis is proving to be a source of low-cost and quick relief from chronic ailments, such as severe pain, PTSD, MS, epilepsy, and nausea from chemotherapy and radiation treatment. It is even helping to treat opioid abuse. 

Gov. Christie is heading President Donald Trump’s commission on opioid addiction and is making this his chief mission during his final year in office. He should read a 2014 Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study that “found a 25 percent decrease in prescription drug overdoses in states where medical marijuana laws allow chronic pain patients to participate,” quoting a Brent Johnson article in NJ Advance Media, May 1, 2017.

Last but far from least, legalizing and taxing pot is a huge step forward toward ending the mass incarceration of young black and Latino men and women who use illegal drugs at about the same or slightly lower rate than whites — but who are stopped by the police, frisked, arrested, and incarcerated at many times the rate of whites.  

So, whose positions are “beyond stupidity” — the Democrats, including the four leading contenders for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination who support legalization, or Gov. Christie, as he leans further into the alternative-facts wing of the Republican Party?

R. William Potter is a partner in the Princeton-based law firm Potter and Dickson. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm or any client.

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