According to Erik Altieri, Executive Director of the decades-old drug reform nonprofit NORML, Christie has spent much of time as governor (and, as it happens, much of the opioid epidemic) fighting the rising tide of calls for cannabis reform in his state. Last week, as part of opioid-themed comments, Christie even called the ever more crucial and commonplace drive to bring regulated adult and medical cannabis use to New Jersey “total stupidity” and “baloney,” and described any tax revenues from the industry as “blood money.”
“We are in the midst of the public health crisis on opiates,” Christie said. “But people are saying pot’s OK. This is nothing more than crazy liberals who want to say everything’s OK.”
In response, NORML released an open letter to the governor days later, explaining in simple terms how scientific and social research have repeatedly shown that cannabis offers rather the opposite of “baloney” in the face of opioid addiction. Citing years of evidence-based conclusions, the letter pointed out, “It makes no sense from a public health perspective, a fiscal perspective, or a moral perspective to perpetuate the prosecution and stigmatization of those adults who choose to responsibly consume a substance that is safer than either alcohol or tobacco.” It continued:
“In truth, America’s real-world experiment with regulating marijuana has been a success. Thirty states, including New Jersey, now regulate the plant’s therapeutic use and eight states authorize its use and sale to all adults. These policy changes are not associated with increased marijuana use or access by adolescents or with adverse effects on traffic safety or in the workplace. Marijuana regulations are also associated with less opioid abuse and mortality . In jurisdictions where this retail market is taxed, revenue from marijuana sales has greatly exceeded initial expectations.”
Altieri explained by phone that the new tactic is one of many advocates have tried over the years in order to convince Christie and lawmakers like him to accept the science on cannabis, and to invest in further study rather than stalwart opposition. Rather than acknowledge evidence that cannabis is a cheap, relatively quite safe method of treating pain and other conditions, and even effective for helping addicts quit much harder drugs, however, Christie has stayed his anti-pot course throughout, according to Altieri.
“Governor Christie has 0% credibility on drug policy, or any other policy, for that matter,” Altieri said. “When it comes to cannabis’ relationship to opioids from real-world experience, not bluster and rhetoric, states that have medicinal and recreational cannabis laws on the books see lower rates of overdose, lower rates of use, and lower rates of opioids being prescribed to patients.”
“This cannot be disputed,” Altieri added. “This is happening on the ground in many states, and he should know this better than others, having seen data on his own state, despite his protestations and attempt to block it.”
But at this point, Altieri said, whether such outreach finally touches Christie’s heart and brain, unlikely as it may be, is no longer of import to the state of New Jersey.
“In consistent polling, 60% of New Jersey residents support legalizing, regulating, and taxing cannabis, in line with the national average, and that’s three times the number of residents that support Governor Christie in his current position,” he said. “He further weakens his position by displaying his ignorance to basic and readily available science. We know that marijuana has a very low harm profile, that you can’t overdose on it, and that the side effects tend to be minor and temporary. Unlike opioids.”
Altieri continued, “It’s important to point out that Christie will be gone by the end of this year, and that so far, every single Democratic candidate for governor and a number of Republican candidates have come out in support of legalization. So it’s really a question of not if but when in New Jersey. And there’s nothing Chris Christie can do about it.”