Famously anti-marijuana former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) isn’t jumping on the pro-legalization train any time soon—but new comments suggest he might be softening his opposition a smidge, recognizing marijuana reform as a states’ rights issue.
Speaking at Politicon on Saturday, Christie took a question about his cannabis stance from YouTuber Kyle Kulinski, who asked him to weigh in on studies showing that states with legal marijuana programs experience lower rates of opioid addiction and overdoses compared to non-legal states. He was quick to dismiss the research, contending that other studies show the “exact opposite.”
“I just don’t believe when we’re in the midst of a drug addiction crisis that we need to legalize another drug,” Christie said, echoing comments he’s made as chair of President Donald Trump’s opioids committee.
Kulinski seized on that point and asked the former governor if he’d vote to ban alcohol.
“No, I wouldn’t ban it. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that’s a big, important argument about marijuana because once you legalize this, that toothpaste never goes back in the tube.”
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” Christie said in 2015. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
So it came as something of a surprise when the former governor went on to say in the Politicon appearance that “states have the right to do what they want to do on this,” signaling a modest shift in his anti-marijuana rhetoric. States should have that right even though, as Christie put it, “broad legalization of marijuana won’t, in my view, alleviate or even minimize the opioid crisis.”
It’s unclear what’s behind the apparent shift from hardline prohibitionist to wary federalist, but who knows… maybe Christie experienced an epiphany at a Melissa Etheridge concert he attended earlier this month.
Etheridge, who recently spoke with Marijuana Moment about her cannabis advocacy and use of the drug for medicinal purposes, reacted to a tweet showing Christie at one of her recent performances, where he reportedly knew every word of her songs and sang along.
A ruling in a U.S. Supreme Court case about sports gambling on Monday has positive implications for marijuana legalization.
The case, Murphy v. NCAA, centered on whether the Constitution’s anti-commandeering doctrine prevents the federal government from forcing states to keep prohibitions of certain federally banned activities on their own lawbooks.
Specifically at issue was whether a New Jersey ballot measure that legalized betting on sports and subsequent actions by state legislators are invalidated by a congressionally approved law banning states and local governments from licensing or otherwise authorizing gambling on team sports.
The Supreme Court voted 7-2 on Monday to overturn the federal gambling prohibition.
If the justices had ruled the other way, state marijuana laws could have been in greater jeopardy of federal intervention.
In that instance, according to an analysis by the Congressional Research Service, “the federal government may be able to regulate other areas like recreational marijuana…by freezing existing state laws in place, instead of through direct federal regulation.”
Ironically, the case was brought to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Chris Christie (R), who has repeatedly said he thinks the federal government should intervene in state marijuana laws. He cheered the ruling on Monday, calling it “a great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions.”
A great day for the rights of states and their people to make their own decisions. New Jersey citizens wanted sports gambling and the federal Gov't had no right to tell them no. The Supreme Court agrees with us today. I am proud to have fought for the rights of the people of NJ.
“This was the only sensible outcome in this case unless the Court was willing to gut its anticommandeering jurisprudence,” Sam Kamin, who serves as the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “Congress cannot tell the state legislatures what they can and can’t do. Congress can prohibit sports gaming everywhere, but it can’t make the states do the same.”
If the Court had ruled to uphold the gambling prohibition, it wouldn’t have automatically invalidated state cannabis laws. But Congress would have been empowered to pass a new law, broader than the current Controlled Substances Act (CSA), that required states to keep their own marijuana bans in effect.
Under the CSA as currently written, Congress specifically says it doesn’t intend to “occupy the field” when it comes to drug policies, “including criminal penalties, to the exclusion of any State law on the same subject matter which would otherwise be within the authority of the State…” Instead, the CSA only seeks to preempt state laws that are so inconsistent with its provisions that the two cannot stand together.
Kamin, who filed an amicus brief in the case along with other law professors, said that the case has “obvious” implications for marijuana.
“The CSA stands, but so do state legalization laws,” he said. “Congress can’t prohibit those laws, force the states to repeal them or force the states to go back to prohibition. Almost everyone who’d thought carefully about these issues knew it was so, but it’s nice to see it recognized by a 7-2 Supreme Court.”
The Court’s opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, contains one specific reference to marijuana:
“The concept of state ‘authorization makes sense only against a backdrop of prohibition or regulation. A State is not regarded as authorizing everything that it does not prohibit or regulate. No one would use the term in that way. For example, no one would say that a State ‘authorizes’ its residents to brush their teeth or eat apples or sing in the shower. We commonly speak of state authorization only if the activity in question would otherwise be restricted… The United States maintains that one ‘would not naturally describe a person conducting a sports-gambling operation that is merely left unregulated as acting ‘pursuant to’ state law.’ But one might well say exactly that if the person previously was prohibited from engaging in the activity. (‘Now that the State has legalized the sale of marijuana, Joe is able to sell the drug pursuant to state law.’)”
It also has several passages in which legalization supporters will likely see parallels to the cannabis debate:
“The legalization of sports gambling is a controversial subject. Supporters argue that legalization will produce revenue for the States and critically weaken illegal sports betting operations, which are often run by organized crime. Opponents contend that legalizing sports gambling will hook the young on gambling, encourage people of modest means to squander their savings and earnings, and corrupt professional and college sports.
“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each State is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution.”
Georgetown Law professor Randy Barnett, who unsuccessfully argued a medical cannabis case before the Supreme Court, said that the new ruling likely shields state marijuana laws from challenges claiming that they are legally preempted by federal prohibition.
Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) has become unhinged due to his state’s effort to legalize marijuana.
The former presidential candidate stated that legalization efforts were “beyond stupidity,” at an event for the New Jersey Hospital Association regarding substance abuse. “We are in the midst of the public health crisis on opiates,” said Christie, ignoring the fact that now even the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) admits that “medical marijuana products may have a role in reducing the use of opioids needed to control pain.”
“But people are saying pot’s OK. This is nothing more than crazy liberals who want to say everything’s OK.”
New Jersey has been experiencing the full force of the opioid epidemic, but Donald Trump still wants Christie to act as chairman to a new committee focused on fighting the crisis.
Perhaps Trump may want to seek a new candidate, as Christie’s comments conflict with scientific research that views marijuana as a possible ally in the opioid crisis. Christie is a believer in marijuana as a “gateway drug,” and blasted Democratic politicians for attempting legalize cannabis.
“Then why not legalize heroin? I mean, their argument fails just on that basis. Let’s legalize cocaine. Let’s legalize angel dust. Let’s legalize all of it. What’s the difference? Let everybody choose,”
“If he’s gonna say this is stupid, I’m going to say those comment are idiotic,” said state Senator Nick Scutari, the sponsor of the marijuana legalization bill.
“To try to draw some kind of nexus between the two is ridiculous, misplaced, and unscientific.”
Scutari’s proposed legislation is supported by Senate President Stephen Sweeney, as well as Christie’s opposing Democrat in the upcoming election, Phil Murphy. Sweeney participated in a fact-finding trip to Colorado to learn about the realities of legalizing cannabis. He was reassured by what he witnessed.
“The industry is so regulated there,” he said. “It is harder to find it on the corner.”
Christie’s rant seems to be as much about political opposition as public safety, as he suggested Democrats and “liberals” were considering taxes from marijuana legalization as a new revenue stream. “This is the part liberals love. We can tax it! Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!” he said. “We’re going to poison our kids for 1 percent more money that they can spend on some God awful, stupid program that they can put in the mailer and send out and say, ‘I delivered $300 million more for this.'”
The governor also called on public health advocates to focus on combatting drug addiction with the same determination seen during the AIDS epidemic over the last three decades. “Where’s the march for the kids who are dying every day?” he asked. “We believe as a society that these people are getting what they deserve.”
As part of the federal committee meant to fight the opioid crisis, Christie will be visiting social media companies like Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat to ask that they participate in public health awareness programs regarding substance abuse. But he may have trouble connecting with these companies located in a state that just legalized cannabis, and within an industry that has been known to experiment with illicit substances in the workplace.
As both medical and recreational legalization sweeps the nation, with red states like Alaska and Ohio getting into the game, patients and advocates are cheering their entry into the 21st century. Unfortunately, a slew of ancillary laws that dramatically affect cannabis consumers and businesses have yet to catch up.
In July, an Arizona Court of Appeals ruled that the smell of marijuana alone cannot serve as probable cause for police to search one’s home or vehicle. In 2010, the state legalized a medical program in the form of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
The court based its decision on the fact that searches of legitimate medical marijuana patients based on smell alone would deem them “second-class citizens,” “losing their rights to privacy and security, including privacy within their own homes.” The judge decided that a warrant cannot be justified by behavior that might be legal.
In late August, an Oregon Court of Appeals refused to declare the smell of burning cannabis “unpleasant.” The court ruled that cannabis smoke isn’t necessary offensive to all people (like, say, rotten food or feces).
Also in late August, the city of Washington, D.C., where recreational possession and consumption is legal, made it illegal for employers to test job candidates or employees for marijuana. It would certainly be illogical for a legal activity like smoking or vaping cannabis to result in a punitive action like loss of a job opportunity or dismissal from a current position.
As a greater number of states embrace legalized cannabis, related laws regarding everything from drug testing and impaired driving to banking services and insurance are in desperate need of revision. Make no doubt, prohibitionist forces are doing everything within their power to slow the acceptance and destigmatization of cannabis in the United States.
Drug Testing and Banking Services
Drug testing and banking services are probably the two greatest issues facing patients, consumers, and business owners in states where the herb is legal. Despite progress, such as the court decisions above, patients and entrepreneurs still face many hurdles in pursuit of a society that truly allows — and even encourages — the capitalization of medical and recreational marijuana.
In June, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled, in a 6-0 decision, that it is legal in the state for a company to fire any employee that tests positive for marijuana. The irony of the situation is obviously that Colorado has had legal medical cannabis since 2000 and has allowed recreational cultivation, possession, and consumption since January of 2014.
The Court justified its decision with the definition of the term “lawful” under Colorado’s Lawful Off-Duty Activities Statute. According to the justices, the existing state law refers to activities lawful under both state and federal law. In his opinion, Justice Allison H. Eid wrote:
“Therefore, employees who engage in an activity, such as medical marijuana use, that is permitted by state law but unlawful under federal law are not protected by the statute.”
Most merchant banking companies have refused to provide their services to cultivation facilities, dispensaries, and retail stores because they are afraid that the federal government will nullify their FDIC insurance. A prominent feature of most dispensaries is an ATM; unfortunately, it’s an all cash business. Because banking regulations haven’t caught up with the progressive cannabis laws of states like Colorado and Oregon, patients, customers, and business owners suffer under the security burden of piles of cash.
Of course, this hoard of cash is ironic, given that dispensaries and pot shops are intended to rid communities of the influence of cartels and the black market. Bundles of Benjamins obviously serve only to attract crime.
The Pressure is On
Short of establishing their own banking services, cannabis-related companies in states like Colorado and California are hard pressed to operate like a normal business. Even the IRS is behind the times, with laws that prohibit certain major tax writeoffs for businesses that trade in a federally illegal substance. Because of this, some dispensaries are effectively paying 60-70 percent tax rates. This lack of financial incentive, if it pervades, may drive entrepreneurs and vendors out of the cannabis business, serving the ends of prohibitionists like New Jersey governor Chris Christie.
Drug testing and banking services are, without a doubt, the most pressing issues facing the burgeoning cannabis industry at this time. Reasonable citizens who would otherwise consume marijuana in a legal environment may avoid the activity due to the risk of losing their jobs — unfairly hurting small businesses who might depend on their patronage. Small businesses and investors may pass on opening a cannabis-related business simply due to arcane tax regulations and an inability to utilize merchant banking systems.
One unlikely solution to all of these headaches is federal legalization, or at least a reclassification of cannabis out of Schedule I. Banking regulations, tax rules, and employer drug testing must be reconsidered, with a recognition that tens of millions of Americans can legally — at a state level — grow, possess, and consume cannabis. Until this happens, the greenrush of the twenty-teens will be at least partially paralyzed.
The concept of gateway drugs has been around for several decades. In fact, the idea was introduced exactly 40 years ago. In 1975, Denise Kandel, a professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia University, coined the term “gateway drug.” What many don’t know: Despite adoption by anti-cannabis prohibitionists, Kandel was actually referring to nicotine.
Promoted by Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign in the 1980s and modern day politicians like Chris Christie — who recently called marijuana both a gateway drug and highly addictive — the idea that use of cannabis often leads to consumption of harder drugs has been debated for decades.
Black Market Effect
Unfortunately, there is some credence to the gateway theory. Instead of being caused by the mere use of cannabis, however, support for the gateway theory arises instead from the black market caused by prohibition. Where illegal and not available via safe access, users wanting simply to obtain cannabis must obviously seek it from underground dealers. Often, these dealers also sell harder drugs, like cocaine, meth, or heroin. With tens of millions of people purchasing cannabis on the black market in the majority of states where it remains illegal, the mere exposure of marijuana consumers to harder drugs may convince a small percentage to actually experiment with these highly addictive substances.
“Crime has not increased in states that have legalized marijuana; it’s actually gone down. Surprisingly, opiate overdose deaths have gone down as well. If anything, marijuana can work as a gateway out of hard drug use.”
Nicotine is the Gatekeeper
In fact, it seems that cigarettes and, more specifically, nicotine, are the real culprits in gateway exposure. In a recent study, Kandel and her husband, Eric Kandel (a Nobel Prize-winning neurologist), discovered scientific evidence of nicotine’s role in hard drug addiction. The researchers concluded:
“Nicotine acts as a gateway drug on the brain, and this effect is likely to occur whether the exposure is from smoking tobacco, passive tobacco smoke, or e-cigarettes.”
The next time someone mentions gateway drugs, don’t think of cannabis. Instead, look toward the common tobacco cigarette. It seems the real culprit has been right under our noses all along….