Christie: ‘We will end the failed war on drugs’

Chris Christie stood on stage before delivering an address after being sworn in for his second term as governor. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)
Chris Christie stood on stage before delivering an address after being sworn in for his second term as governor. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters)

That’s from his second inaugural address, delivered today. Here’s more from Christie, courtesy of the Drug Policy Alliance:

“We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse. We will make drug treatment available to as many of our non-violent offenders as we can and we will partner with our citizens to create a society that understands this simple truth:  every life has value and no life is disposable.”

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Christie is facing a major, career-threatening scandal right now. It’s entirely possible that this is an attempt at deflection. Some other caveats: Though Christie admirably wants to end the cycle of incarceration, he also supports mandatory treatment for recreational drug users, even first-time offenders. That doesn’t exactly scream freedom. (The overwhelming majority of recreational drug users aren’t addicts, and aren’t in need of treatment.) And while New Jersey technically legalized medical marijuana nearly four years ago, Christie has done everything in his power to prevent it from actually happening. Finally, in 2012, Christie vetoed a “good Samaritan” bill that would have protected from criminal prosecution someone who calls 911 to report a drug overdose.

All of that said,  a Republican governor, a leading (at least as of a couple weeks ago) candidate for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, and a former federal prosecutor just uttered the phrase “We will end the failed war on drugs” in an inaugural speech. And he did it while still in office. That seems pretty significant. His wording—”we will make drug treatment available” for non-violent offenders—also at least hints at a shift from his prior policy of making treatment mandatory. I guess we’ll soon see if it’s just rhetoric, or represents a real break in policy.

Radley Balko blogs about criminal justice, the drug war and civil liberties for The Washington Post. He is the author of the book "Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces."
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Radley Balko | January 21