The Washington Examiner reports that during a segment Chris Christie’s weekly “Ask the Governor” radio show, a caller asked the next president of the United States whether he would consider legalizing marijuana as a means of increasing tax revenue. Christie responded:
“Mike, I love you baby, but it ain’t happening, not while I’m governor,” Christie said to the caller.
Christie said that he understood the argument for more revenue, but said that it was wasn’t an “even exchange.”
“I don’t believe that legalizing an illegal drug for purposes of governmental profit is something that we should be doing. I believe that this is a gateway drug into other more serious drugs, I think it sends a wrong message to our kids and I don’t think it makes anybody a better or more productive person,” he said.
Raising additional revenue isn’t the best — or even a very good — reason to support passage of laws decriminalizing pot. But if Christie and other drug warriors want to effectively counter the growing popularity of recreational pot legalization, they’ll have to update the rhetoric. Because what the governor offered won’t cut it for a number of reasons.
Marijuana is the most pathetic “gateway” drug ever.
I’m not a fan of pot, but the correlation between marijuana and serious drugs (which I would also legalize) are trivial. Predictably, those who snort cocaine or shoot heroin will have at some point smoked pot, as well. Alcoholics don’t find themselves on three-day benders without having sipped a beer at some point earlier in life. So all this tells us very little about the addictive potency of pot. The notion that smoking marijuana will inevitably advance to freebasing can’t be found anywhere in the data. In a long-term survey, for instance, Gallup found that around 38 percent of all Americans — 49 percent of those from the ages of 30 to 49 — have tried marijuana in their lifetimes. Not only did around 98 percent of those who sampled pot not move on to meth, but by a large margin most of them didn’t even continue smoking marijuana.
So I guess that’s a long way of saying if pot is a gateway drug, it’s the weakest gateway drug ever.
“Serious drugs” aren’t nearly the problem Christie thinks they are
Legalizing probably won’t make much of a difference. In context, few people habitually abuse illicit drugs and far fewer still habitually abuse serious drugs despite their rampant availability. If we’re to believe the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2012, around 24 million Americans — around 9 percent of the US population — had used any illegal drug in the past month. How many people are serious hampered by binge usage is unknown. After pot, the most “abused” substances are psychotherapeutic drugs and pain killers — the latter, presumably, is often abused to help alleviate some discomfort. Only 1.3 million Americans used cocaine and fewer than 1 million had used heroin. Under a half a million used methamphetamine, which is surprising when we consider its prevalence in culture and news coverage. It’s a problem, for sure. What we don’t have, though, is the drug “epidemic” we’ve been warned about for decades.
You’re not really sending any “message” to kids
What message do we send children when we legalize pot? Are we implying that they’re responsible for their own decisions regarding right and wrong regardless of what government bans or doesn’t ban? Because, you know, the state is wrong and acts immorally quite often. We tend to overestimate the power of government’s influence over children, anyway. This probably happens because politicians tend to see themselves as moral leaders. But marijuana usage has barely fluctuated for decades according to Gallup and it matters not how loudly or empathically various administrations promised to fight the problem. Within these decades of government messaging is the one I grew up in, wherein children were subjected to a barrage of infantile scaremongering that didn’t put much of a dent into usage or our perspective of pot – or much of anything else.
Government “profit” is not the only upside of legalization
The Colorado Legislative Council, the CBO of the state, estimates that legalizing marijuana would bring in about $57 million in extra tax revenue each year. And while that’s less than half of what the state estimated last month, and a lot less than voters were promised when they were casting ballots in support of legalization, it’s no small change for a state like Colorado. Obviously, we’re talking hundreds of millions in a state like New Jersey. And perhaps, even more than revenue, legalizing a nonviolent activity also saves the state money and time in avoiding pointless arrests and prosecutions, and allows millions to be redirected back to fighting criminality that undermines communities in more serious ways.
Are you a “better and more productive” person when you’re gambling away your life savings in AC?
I tend to agree that marijuana doesn’t make anybody a better or more productive person. It’s not the point. Pot is a recreational drug, like alcohol. And if it is government’s job to outlaw mostly harmless but frivolous activities it will be busy. Here are a few off the top of my head:
Working in politics.
So I guess I’d ask Christie why stop at drugs? What message do we send kids about productivity when we legalize gambling? The American Psychiatric Association says the neuroscience, genetics and psychological components of gambling are very similar to drug addiction. The chances of an adult ruining their lives in Atlantic City is a lot higher than at a pot dispensary. Yet, not only does New Jersey feature casino gambling, it has a number of lotteries, horse racing, off-track betting, online gambling, video game gambling, among other types of gaming. Casinos brought in $254.84 million revenue in 2012. In January of 2012, Christie signed legislation allowing sports betting in New Jersey. In February of 2013, Christie signed a law allowing online gambling.
Does he not care about the children?
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist and author of the The People Have Spoken (and They Are Wrong): The Case Against Democracy. Follow him on Twitter.