Amidst all the early GOP presidential jockeying, let’s check on our Jersey boy Chris Christie. Looks like the tough-love guv surfaced this week on a radio show and ranted about reefer madness.
“Right now, we’ve got the states of Colorado and Washington (defying) federal law by allowing people to sell dope legally,” said host Hugh Hewitt, whose show is a required pit stop for Republican aspirants. “If you’re president of the United States, are you going to enforce the federal drug laws in those states?”
“Absolutely. I will crack down and not permit it,” Christie responded. “Marijuana is a gateway drug. We have an enormous addiction problem in this country... Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”
Granted, the status of weed is not the weightiest issue in America. It’s not even as important as Christie’s pitch to raise the normal Social Security retirement age to 69. And if federal prosecutors announce indictments in the George Washington Bridge probe - as expected soon - Christie is probably toast anyway. But his reactionary pot stance is a window into his alienation from the Republican mainstream, Not to mention the American middle.
Start with the fact that his key line - “Marijuana is a gateway drug” - is empirically ignorant. (Deposed Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett also invoked the gateway canard, and we all know what a brainiac he was.) Christie has been saying it a lot.”Every bit of objective data tells us that it’s a gateway drug to other drugs,” he said last month.
That’s a lie and an insult to the actual science.
In 1999, the Institute of Medicine, part of the American Academy of Sciences, concluded: “There is no evidence that marijuana serves as a stepping stone on the basis of its particular physiological effect.” In 2002, the British Journal of Addiction concluded: “While the gateway theory has enjoyed popular acceptance, scientists have always had their doubts. Our study shows that these doubts are justified.” In 2006, the American Journal of Psychiatry concluded: “The likelihood that someone will transition to the use of illicit drugs is determined not by the preceding use of a particular drug, but instead by the user’s individual tendencies and environmental circumstances.”
In plain English, the scientific consensus is that weed is typically a gateway drug - or, more precisely, a starter drug - for people who are already predisposed to use drugs. And that for many of those people, the real starter drugs are alcohol and cigarettes.
Plus, we have the federal drug-use stats: In the five years from 2007 to 2012, the number of monthly marijuana users reportedly rose from 14.4 million to 18.9 million - yet, during that same span, the number of monthly cocaine users fell from 2.1 million to 1.7 million; crystal meth, from 530,000 to 400,000. Heroin use (still a fraction of pot use) has gone up, but the gateway drug for those users appears to be prescription painkillers.
Christie’s 1930s-era gateway canard might click with anti-science conservatives, but otherwise his hardline pot stance is a political loser. At this point, with prohibition on the wane (68 percent of Millennials - the future of America - want legalization), there’s little appetite for a Big Brother crackdown on the states that have legalized recreational and medical use. Last month, the Pew Research Center reported that 59 percent of Americans - including 54 percent of Republicans - want Washington to leave those states alone.
Indeed, Christie has staked out a position far to the right of the likely Republican field. Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Rick Perry all have the 10th-Amendment ‘attitude that states should decide for themselves. It’d be fun to watch Christie debate his rivals on stage about marijuana policy.
Assuming that he even makes it to the gateway.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Philadelphia. Email him at email@example.com