Governor Chris Christie has been in the headlines frequently over the past few years for his push to amp up the fight against the opioid epidemic, not only in New Jersey but across the country as the head of the presidential commission on opioids.
As part of his role on that commission, Governor Christie recently penned a letter to Trump and made a statement that triggered rumbling across the country.
Christie wrote: “There is a lack of sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana. This mirrors the lack of data in the 1990s and early 2000s when opioid prescribing multiplied across health care settings and led to the current epidemic of abuse, misuse and addiction. The Commission urges that the same mistake is not made with the uninformed rush to put another drug legally on the market in the midst of an overdose epidemic.”
What people heard was: “Marijuana is as deadly as opioids, and legalizing it will only make the opioid epidemic worse.” And they reacted harshly.
Many said that comments such as these harken back to the Reagan-era “This is your brain on drugs” ad campaign – an attempt to drive behavioral choices by using fear tactics that did little to convey the reality of drug use and abuse.
A less dramatic interpretation of that part of Christie’s letter might be “do more research before legalizing marijuana. We are already in crisis and we do not want to make it worse accidentally.”
But Christie did not stop there. Later in the letter, he states that the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) has done research that “found that marijuana use led to a 2.5 times greater chance that the marijuana user would become an opioid user and abuser.”
They say that there is little to support the idea that marijuana use is the “gateway drug” that many once believed it was and that there is some evidence to support the use of marijuana for the treatment of chronic pain in place of opioids.
While some say that the research does not fully support that claim – or that, if it does, the same could be said of alcohol and nicotine – others say that the notion is hardly farfetched. It is reasonable to assume that a tolerance would develop to marijuana as it does with every other substance, and that patients who use the drug to treat chronic pain may eventually move toward using something stronger like opiate painkillers.
Unfortunately, the primary message of Christie’s letter
“proceed with caution”- Has gotten lost in the litany of debate over the details. In New Jersey, especially, it is an important message to hear. There has been a great deal of discussion about whether or not legalized recreational marijuana is the next step for the state. While some are adamantly against it, others are passionately for it, and all eyes are on the states where it is currently legal to see what the impact is and what could potentially happen in New Jersey if the law is passed.
It is a reasonable suggestion to take time and do the research when it comes to making decisions that affect entire communities, not just the individuals who choose to use marijuana. For example, drugged driving is a considerable issue, and the solutions that work for drunk driving don’t work for marijuana use. There is no ability to test for levels of marijuana in one’s system in the field, and this is a significant issue to take into consideration as it impacts everyone on the road.
Additionally, there are no long-term studies on the effects of things like secondhand smoke, children’s exposure to marijuana, or how the drug interacts with different medications and/or prescription drugs. However, with the current federal regulations in place, there is only a limited ability to study the drug or its effects. Perhaps instead of blanket legalization of an untested substance, the goal should instead be to loosen restrictions enough to fully investigate the substance in all its forms and figure out the best move forward for New Jersey.
What do you think of Governor Christie’s statement? How do you think New Jersey should proceed when it comes to the legalization of recreational marijuana?