Chris Christie’s Views on Drugs
Chris Christie vs. 58 Percent of New Jerseyans
Christie’s opposition to regulating recreational marijuana is so deep-seated that when NJ.com listed what it would take for the Garden State to officially accept cannabis, “Elect a new governor” was the first item. Christie is against nearly anything to do with allowing marijuana into the public sphere of New Jersey, even suggesting that attempts to expand medicinal marijuana are just a “front for legalization.”
58% of New Jersey residents now support opening up the laws on marijuana
NJ.com notes that Christie’s term expires in January 2018. Meanwhile, 58 percent of New Jersey residents now support opening up the laws on marijuana, according to a Rutgers University-Eagleton Institute poll conducted in June 2015. However, if the law is to be changed, it’s going to take more than a simple majority of voters. Community leaders would have to campaign on the grounds that enforcing current marijuana laws unfairly targets black and Latino people, and draws police resources away from more serious crimes. In October 2016, a study conducted by the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights Watch found that not as many arrests were made for violent crimes, as for the possession of minor amounts of marijuana. “A disproportionate number of those arrested are African Americans,” even though black Americans consume marijuana at a rate that is comparable to white Americans, “but are arrested and prosecuted far more often for having small amounts for personal use.”
Sales Tax Revenue
Law enforcement communities, both those in New Jersey and across the country, are split on the issue. On the one hand, there is the acknowledgement that current marijuana laws unfairly target people of color of lower income demographics, while generally giving affluent white Americans an easier time for the same crime. On the other, the idea of legalizing a drug with a potential risk factor is anathema. Chris Christie’s vehement opposition to cannabis reform makes life more difficult for marijuana advocates, but with growing support for overturning pre-existing laws, observers in New Jersey wonder how long Christie can afford to hold out.
The answer might be “until he leaves office,” because even when his own residents have used the arguments that won over voters in Colorado and Washington (that marijuana legalization is both inevitable and lucrative), Christie has argued that that can only come to pass “when [he’s] gone.”
In 2015, Colorado took in $1 billion from their marijuana tax, and the state of Washington was on course to do the same, but Christie “[doesn’t] care about the tax money that may come” from following in those states’ footsteps.,  New Jersey United for Marijuana Reform and New Jersey Policy Perspective estimated that New Jersey could make about $300 million a year in sales tax revenue.
The figure was determined from federal studies that show the current use of marijuana in New Jersey: 365,900 residents aged 21 and over smoke or consume cannabis products every month, amounting to 2.53 million ounces every year. The street value of an ounce of marijuana is $343, giving the black market $869 million in sales. Legalizing marijuana would bring that market out into the open, making it worth $1.2 billion as consumers in New Jersey and neighboring states made purchases. A sales tax of 25 percent would give New Jersey a cut of $300 million.
New Jersey could make about $300 million a year in sales tax revenue
Medical Marijuana Efforts in New Jersey
Nobody in New Jersey was surprised when, after state Senator Nicholas Scutari put forward a bill that would regulate the growth, ownership, and sale of recreational marijuana, Christie objected to what he said was “the wrong message” being sent to the children of New Jersey. Scutari, on the other hand, argued that his bill would gut the illegal drug market in the state by taking cannabis away from the black market.
But with almost 60 percent of New Jersey residents thinking differently than Christie, their governor has been forced to compromise. Notwithstanding the “enormous addiction problem” in the country, Christie signed bills to loosen the restrictions on children entering a medical marijuana program and to allow sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder access to medical marijuana treatments even as he “vowed” to block efforts by activists to open up other conditions to medical marijuana remedies, such as severe menstrual cramping., , , 
Changing the Thinking about Marijuana
Christie’s grudging approval of marijuana programs has emboldened reform advocates, especially as he enters the final year of his administration. The three marijuana-related bills introduced in 2016 are unlikely to change Christie’s mind, but lawmakers are optimistic that, at the very least, they will spark discussions.
More Convinced than Before
Other voices in the Garden State are similarly skeptical that Christie will listen to them, but they are focused more on simply starting a conversation that, to them, will end in their favor once Christie leaves office. The fact that voices from both sides of the aisle are collaborating on how to move forward in Christie’s wake is, for them, a sign that New Jersey will open its doors to marijuana sooner, rather than later.
To that effect, reform advocates are already looking beyond New Jersey. In October 2016, nine lawmakers visited Colorado to see for themselves the impact that marijuana regulation has had there. One of them was Nicholas Scutari; another was the Assembly Majority Leader, Lou Greenwald. Their mission was to talk with legislators, members of the Colorado governor’s administration, health officials, cannabis farm owners, cannabis dispensary owners, and the people who were responsible for drafting the constitutional amendment that voters successfully agreed to in 2013.
The purpose of the trip, Scutari said, was “to learn from their experiences and improve on it as much as we can.” It was his second trip to the Centennial State, having made no secret of his interest in the “big money and […] great savings to the state” that can come from regulating marijuana.
Upon his return to New Jersey, Scutari was “more convinced than before” that his home state should follow in Colorado’s footsteps, saying that he saw no detrimental effects of cannabis being sold publicly. His other recommendations included:
- Making certain that the information about content is clearly displayed on edible marijuana packaging, so consumers are made aware of what they are consuming
- Making certain that police officers are made aware that driving under the influence of marijuana presents itself differently than driving under the influence of alcohol
- Deciding how to regulate homegrown marijuana or to outlaw it entirely
Lesniak argues that the key is not legalization, but decriminalization (removing the criminal and monetary penalties for possessing marijuana without addressing the actual consumption of the drug, or how it is taxed or used, and depriving businesses the legal grounds to promote and market cannabis) “would help avoid the negative consequences of marijuana.”
Keeping the Door Open
But Lesniak is not done, and his conclusion addresses the key point in the current landscape of marijuana legalization in New Jersey. “We should not close the door to legalization,” he says, suggesting that decriminalization is the first step to establishing a strong foundation from which to properly launch a successful cannabis market in New Jersey. Such a launch would focus on education and treatment, before implementation, to minimize the negative effects that Colorado suffered in its first year of legalization. The education would also extend to law enforcement and the court system, especially in the context of young people using marijuana and drivers being under the influence of marijuana.
For now, however, research indicates a “no” to the question of whether marijuana should be legalized; issues of social justice, on the other hand (which Lesniak does not address in detail) say “yes” to the question of whether marijuana should be decriminalized.
The New Jersey Herald agrees with some of the points Lesniak raised. For many in public health, law enforcement, and policymaking, legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes is “frightening.” A further issue is “the lack of recognized scientific research on marijuana,” a result of the federal government categorizing cannabis as a Schedule I drug (like heroin and LSD), which greatly restricts the amount of research that can be carried out with marijuana; research that could significantly swing the pendulum in the reform debate.
Archaic, Destructive, and Bizarre Marijuana Laws
The National Institute on Drug Abuse writes that only 9 percent of the people who use marijuana will develop an addiction to the drug; however, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Food and Drug Administration are deadlocked on which agency can make the first move in loosening the restrictions around cannabis, restrictions that that will allow scientists to use it in clinical trials that might assuage the fears of some of the entities that the New Jersey Herald mentioned.
The point is echoed by the Star-Ledger editorial board, saying that New Jersey’s own drug laws go beyond “merely archaic” and into “destructive.” Every 22 minutes, a New Jersey resident is arrested for possessing marijuana, a rate that is double that of the United States overall. Such arrests (24,000 people per year) cost New Jersey $127 million. Owning just one joint can put someone in jail for six months and net a $1,000 fine, as well as a two-year suspension on a driver’s license. The ensuing criminal record could cost the person their job or a future job; immigrants could be deported; students could lose financial aid; would-be parents would be banned for five years from adopting a child; and low-income people could be slapped with a three-year ban from public housing. Meanwhile, millions of New Jersey residents enjoy marijuana in the privacy of their own homes.
An attorney who handles many such cases says that the status quo is “ridiculous.” What usually happens to someone arrested for possessing marijuana is that the person pays a fine and has the charges conditionally dismissed; if no further legal infractions take place in the following six months, the case is dismissed.
Every 22 minutes, a New Jersey resident is arrested for possessing marijuana, a rate that is double that of the United States overall
One cannabis joint can put someone in jail for six months and net a $1,000 fine, as well as a two-year suspension on a driver’s license
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