Despite having vetoed a popular bill to refocus police priorities away from nonviolent drug offenders, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie seems to have recognized that being against the drug war is a popular thing these days — and he’s even trying to make that new politick into a pet cause for America’s conservatives.
In a Monday speech to The Brookings Institution, Christie declared that America’s drug war, “while well-intentioned, has been a failure.”
“[We’re] warehousing addicted people every day in the state prisons in New Jersey, giving them no treatment, sending them back out on the street after their term of incarceration, and wondering why recidivism rates go up and why they don’t get better, why they commit crimes again,” he continued. “Well, they commit crimes to support their addiction.”
“So I said what we need to do is for all first time non-violent drug offenders, we have to make drug treatment mandatory,” Christie added. “Because if you’re pro-life, as I am, you can’t be pro-life just in the womb. Every life is precious and every one of God’s creatures can be redeemed, but they won’t if we ignore them.”
He even added a fiscal conservative spin on it, too: “By the way, for those of you who are concerned about economics, it cost us $49,000 a year to warehouse a prisoner in New Jersey state prisons last year,” he said. “A full year of in-patient drug treatment costs $24,000 a year, so it makes economic sense also. But, to me, that’s just a collateral advantage.”
Christie was criticized earlier this year after he vetoed a bill that would have decriminalized marijuana and refocused police resources on violent criminals instead. That bill was supported by about six in 10 New Jersians, according to recent polling, and would have brought the state in-line with neighboring New York, where marijuana possession is a ticketable offense so long as it’s not out in the open.
And while Christie has supported recently-passed legislation that requires drug treatment for first-time offenders, as a candidate Christie argued against legalizing medical marijuana without tough restrictions on who may use it. Despite the governor’s initial resistance, and decision to briefly suspend the state’s medical marijuana licensing scheme, Christie’s administration ultimately implemented one of the nation’s most restrictive medical marijuana programs, as authorized by former Gov. Jon Corzine (D).
Christie’s advocacy for drug reform could also have interesting effects on his chance at becoming former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s running mate in the 2012 presidential election — a job he’s said that he’d consider if asked. But Christie has also recently said that he does not believe Romney will ask that of him, even though many in the Republican party see him as their real shot at connecting with working and middle class voters, which Romney has so far failed to do.
If Christie is destined for the presidential ticket — and it’s still far too early to say — he could be Romney’s means of connecting with the drug reform crowd, helping chisel away at a demographic that’s become increasingly frustrated with President Obama. Polling earlier this year found that a full 56 percent of Americans want to see significant change in the drug war, even legalization of marijuana, but so far neither candidate for president has been willing to touch that.