Gov. Chris Christie does not like marijuana. No surprise there.
The potential presidential hopeful was forced to address the issue again this week after being confronted by activist Ed "NJWeedman" Forchion over a loudspeaker on the way out of his monthly radio program. The lighthearted exchange between two of the most outspoken individuals in the Garden State was captured on video.
Weedman asked the governor when he would "stop arresting people for marijuana."
Making his way to his state-owned black SUV, with security detail on hand, Christie replied: "You know now, I haven't arrested anybody. I don't get to do that anymore."
The next day Christie was asked about the interaction during a press conference. He rolled out his usual canned rhetoric about weed. Gateway drug? Check. Slippery slope? Check. "Not while I'm governor" line? Check. But, as he is often wont to do, Christie turned it up a notch. He called tax revenue collected through legal marijuana sales in other states "blood money."
Coming from the man who is bucking the federal government in his effort to legalize sports betting, this is a totally bizarre accusation to make.
Lottery games, horse racing, card and dice games as well as sports betting used to be the lifeblood of the mafia in New Jersey. Indeed, along with alcohol, gambling is what fueled the mob. The only way the underground gambling economy was curtailed was by regulating it and bringing it above board.
The N.J. Lottery promotes itself as the fourth-largest revenue generator for the state, bringing in almost $1 billion per year. Each of the Atlantic City casinos rakes in $15 million to $57 million in profits every single month. Now residents can play slot machines on their smartphones.
The ultimate irony is that Christie's remarks came as he was speaking at an addiction treatment center called Daytop. The facility's CEO, James Curtain, has called marijuana "secondary" compared to opiate and heroin abuse. There is little debate over what is fueling that deadly trend: prescription pharmaceutical pain medications, especially oxycodone and Oxycontin. Purdue Pharma LP developed Oxycontin. Its main research laboratory is in New Jersey. In fact 26 of the 28 largest pharmaceutical companies in the world call N.J. home for corporate headquarters or their main labs. Big Pharma is a powerful lobby in Trenton.
Christie, who fancies himself as bluntly honest, also seems to be fudging the truth when it comes to enforcement.
More than 21,000 adults are arrested for marijuana possession each year in New Jersey. Sure, the governor is not out personally putting handcuffs on people. But his promises to veto any legislation aimed at decriminalization or legalization make him ultimately and unequivocally responsible for those arrests.
States such as Massachusetts, Maryland, Vermont and Connecticut and cities including Philadelphia have all decided to remove criminal penalties for pot. New Jersey has kept holding cells and courts filled with cannabis consumers to appease Chris Christie's personal worldview.
That has not sat well with many who deal directly with these cases. The N.J. Municipal Prosecutors Association has endorsed full legalization and recently helped the ACLU-NJ launch a group called New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform.
Christie is also widening a divide with members of his own Republican Party. A Pew Research poll this week showed 63 percent of GOP millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) favor legal weed. Young conservatives in N.J. agreed. The Rutgers Daily Targum reported on the poll this week.
The future of this issue really lays on millennials, said Kevin McConnell, a School of Environmental and Biological Studies junior.
"I'm a strong conservative from a small town in South Jersey and I still can't believe this stuff is still illegal," he said.
McConnell said he realizes there is an age gap when discussing issues like this with older conservatives, but they can agree with individual freedom.
The whole idea of conservatism is less government infringement, he said.
When Christie appeared earlier this month at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, he came in 10th among presidential contenders with 2.8 percent of the vote. But more than 40 percent of CPAC attendees wanted marijuana reform; only 27 percent favored Christie's vision of continued cannabis prohibition.
Forchion has run for several state and federal political offices. Now might be the right time for NJWeedman to join the GOP ticket.
The N.J. Legislature is about to put Christie against a wall with medical marijuana. The governor has steadfastly refused to alter or expand the state's dysfunctional medicinal cannabis program. But the N.J. Assembly has posted several alteration measures to a floor vote today. One would allow Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a qualifying condition. Another bill would finally deal with "arbitrary and unnecessary" regulations by the Christie Administration that have strangled the program.
With his unyielding opposition to marijuana reform Chris Christie might just be smoking himself out of a place in national GOP politics.
Chris Goldstein is associate editor of Freedom Leaf magazine and co-chair of PhillyNorml. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.