New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has famously promised to stamp out marijuana legalization if he’s elected president. But he may soon have a fight over cannabis closer to home.

MarijuanaA state Senate panel held a hearing in November to discuss new legislation that would legalize marijuana for recreational use. New Jersey already allows medicinal cannabis, though Christie has tried to block that program in the past.

Lawmakers predicted a fight with the governor, who has taken a staunch anti-marijuana position during his beleaguered run for the GOP nomination. Christie, whose candidacy is likely headed for the dustbin, has promised to stop Colorado and other states from allowing legal cultivation, sale, and possession of the drug. It hasn’t done him much good on the campaign trail.

Bill to legalize and regulate marijuana

New Jersey Sen. Nicholas Scutari, a Democrat, introduced the bill that would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis for adults over 21. His plan, he said, would kill the black market and create a new, legal, billion-dollar industry.

“I believe our state should lead the way,” Scutari said.

Christie’s predecessor, a Democrat, signed medical marijuana into law shortly before leaving office, and Christie tried repeatedly to kill the program. He has said he would never allow legalization in New Jersey while he’s governor and has threatened to use the White House to intervene in states that already allow legal cannabis.

“As a former federal prosecutor, I’ve been the most outspoken person in this race on this issue,” Christie said in a recent interview. “I am completely, 100 percent opposed to drug legalization. That’s different than being for treatment.”

Indeed, Christie has developed a reputation for compassion when it comes to addicts, and has repeatedly called for drug treatment rather than arrest and incarceration. A video of him speaking at a diner about his law school friend has gone viral; the friend died of a heroin overdose after a legal prescription for painkillers turned into a severe addiction.

Christie staunchly opposed to cannabis legalization

Chris ChristieBut his position is much less forgiving when it comes to legalizing cannabis. With the possible exception of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who likewise stands no chance of winning the nomination, Christie has taken the hardest anti-marijuana position of any candidate.

The state Senate hearing, held Nov. 16, included testimony from several pro-legalization advocates and civil liberties experts. Udi Ofer, executive director of the New Jersey branch of the ACLU, pointed to the viral video of Christie’s diner speech, noting a disconnect between the governor’s words on addiction and his actions on cannabis law.

“Here we have a governor who talks about how the war on drugs has failed,” Ofer said. “Yet we have seen arrests increase over time. There’s an inconsistency there.”

About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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