Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) is making another run for the presidency, announcing that he is seeking the 2024 Republican nomination.
Christie—a former U.S. attorney who also served as chairman of an opioid commission under the Trump administration—has long criticized marijuana reform efforts efforts. During his 2016 presidential bid, for example, he made headlines for pledging to enforce federal prohibition in states that have enacted legalization and making disparaging remarks about cannabis consumers.
While he did allow medical marijuana legalization to take effect in New Jersey as governor, he faced criticism for slow-walking the implementation of the law enacted by his predecessor. And although he said in 2018 that he’s come to view cannabis policy as a states’ rights issue, his overall position on legalization doesn’t appear to have meaningfully changed—even with the vast majority of states now having enacted reform in some manner, including the end of prohibition in his home state under his successor’s administration.
Christie has expressed his belief that cannabis is a gateway drug, that tax revenue from regulated sales amounts to “blood money” and that marijuana use inhibits productivity and endangers children.
It remains to be seen if he will maintain a states’ right attitude toward cannabis this election cycle, or double down on his earlier commitment to upending state legal markets. But in general, Christie’s record could alienate advocates on both sides of the aisle as public opinion continues to grow in favor of reform on an increasingly bipartisan basis. It should be noted, however, that the presidential hopeful has criticized the broader war on drugs on a number of occasions.
Christie’s competitors for the GOP nomination include former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R).
Here’s where Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie stands on marijuana:
Legislation And Policy Actions
New Jersey Governor (January 2010-January 2018)
Christie took office as governor of New Jersey just one day after his Democratic predecessor signed a medical cannabis legalization bill into law. Despite his personal views on the issue, he did ultimately allow the law to be implemented—though the protracted rollout elicited criticism from patient groups.
Need 2 provide pain relief 4 citizens outweighs risk. NJ moving to implement Compassionate Use Medicinal Marijuana Act: http://bit.ly/q6N8Wu
— Chris Christie (@GovChristie) July 19, 2011
He announced in December 2010 that his administration had reached an agreement with the sponsor of the medical cannabis legislation on the best path forward for regulating the program.
The agreement was “an example of how reasonable minds can come together and craft solutions that are in the best interests of our state,’’ he said. “Working together, we have come to an agreement that will prevent further delay to patients who need relief from the symptoms of debilitating illnesses. At the same time, we are protecting the interests of all residents of the state of New Jersey by preventing some of the abuses that we have seen in other states.”
Christie held a press conference in July 2011 where he said that his administration was “left with very little instruction about how to implement this [medical cannabis] law and how to do it in a very complex legal environment with conflicting and intersecting federal and state legal requirements and opportunities.”
“I made clear during the campaign that this is not a law that I would have signed if I were governor at the time,” he said. “But I also, on January 19th, took an oath to enforce and uphold the laws of the state of New Jersey as governor.”
Christie had his state attorney general write a letter to then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “try to seek some clarification for a state like ours that already had passed a medical marijuana law and had already promulgated regulations and awarded dispensaries to deal with the implementation of the program,” he said.
“Despite all the hyperbole over time from others, I have been struggling, as has my administration, to find a way to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish, which is to provide compassionate treatment to people who are suffering in a way that will not expose them, the operators of our dispensaries or the employees of the state of New Jersey to criminal liability,” he said. “That is a lot easier said than done.”
In 2015, the governor signed legislation that allowed students to receive medical cannabis treatment at schools.
Christie also championed expanding drug treatment resources in the state, stating that his administration would make such treatment options “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 that every life has value and no life is disposable.”
In 2017, Christie was at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case that looked at whether the Constitution’s anti-commandeering doctrine prevents the federal government from forcing states to keep prohibitions of certain federally- proscribed activities on their own lawbooks. While the governor was primarily defending the state’s sports gambling laws, some legal experts said the court’s ruling that struck down the federal law prohibiting such betting could have implications for cannabis policy.
He also drew a contrast in the federal government’s approach to state-level legalization of cannabis and gambling in describing why he filed the case.
@arianrubio Federal govt did not go to court to stop Colorado on marijuana–they did to stop gambling in NJ. That is the difference
— Chris Christie (@GovChristie) August 9, 2014
White House Opioid and Drug Abuse Commission (March 2017-September 2017)
During his time in the Trump administration, Christie oversaw an opioid-focused commission—and at one point in 2017, he sent a letter to the president arguing that the spread of medical cannabis legalization is a concern on par with the opioid addiction crisis.
“There is a lack of sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency and abuse potential for marijuana,” he wrote. “This mirrors the lack of data in the 1990’s and early 2000’s when opioid prescribing multiplied across health care settings and led to the current epidemic of abuse, misuse and addiction.”
“The Commission urges that the same mistake is not made with the uninformed rush to put another drug legally on the market in the midst of an overdose epidemic,” he added.
“Apply the lessons learned to current movements to medicalize and legalize other Schedule 1 drugs,” the report recommended, alluding to marijuana. “The catalyst of the opioid crisis was a denial of its addictive potential.”
Christie’s commission released a report that largely ignored public comments supporting federal cannabis reform and instead focused on promoting the expansion of drug courts and anti-drug advertising campaigns.
On The Campaign Trail
It does not appear that Christie has discussed marijuana policy issues since entering the race for the party’s 2024 presidential nomination.
Previous Quotes And Social Media Posts
Some of the most memorable comments that Christie has made with respect to cannabis occurred during his 2016 presidential run.
He quickly distinguished himself among his GOP competitors as especially hostile to reform by asserting that he would seek to overturn state-level legalization if elected.
In an interview on Hugh Hewitt’s radio show in April 2015, for example, he said he would “crack down and not permit it.”
“Marijuana is a gateway drug,” he said. “We have an enormous addiction problem in this country. And we need to send very clear leadership from the White House on down through the federal law enforcement. Marijuana is an illegal drug under federal law. And the states should not be permitted to sell it and profit from it.”
Asked in 2014 how he’d treat states that have implemented marijuana legalization, he responded simply: “Probably not well. Not well, but we’ll see. We’ll have to see what happens.”
Christie didn’t even seem especially concerned about potentially offending voters in the then-critical swing state of Colorado two years after a historic cannabis legalization ballot initiative was approved, saying in a 2014 interview that “for people who are enamored with the idea of the income, the tax revenue from this, go to Colorado and see if you want to live there.”
“See if you want to live in a major city in Colorado where there’s head shops popping up on every corner and people flying into your airport just to come and get high,” he said. “To me, it’s just not the quality of life we want to have here in the state of New Jersey and there’s no tax revenue that’s worth that.”
He also made an unambiguous threat during a town hall event in New Hampshire: “If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it until January 2017, because I will enforce the federal laws against marijuana as president of the United States.”
Christie also sharply criticized then-President Barack Obama over the federal government’s generally permissive attitude toward state legalization efforts, at one point suggesting that the discretionary enforcement could be related to “guilt” that he said Obama might have felt over criminalization, “since he got high when he was a kid.”
If Obama wanted to end federal marijuana prohibition, he should “go to Congress, stand in the well of the House in your State of the Union address and say, ‘I believe it’s time to legalize marijuana,’” Christie advised. “This child of the ’60s who is in the White House is unable to absent himself from his own past use, and is unable to say no.”
Interestingly, Christie did seem to somewhat pivot on the issue, saying in 2018 that he believes “states have the right to do what they want to do on” marijuana policy, even if he disagrees with 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,” he said.
“Look at the decrease in productivity—look at the way people get used and move on to other drugs when they use marijuana as a gateway drug,” he said. “It is not them that are the only victims. Their families are the victims, too. Their children are the victims, too. And their employers are the victims also.”
“That’s why I’ll enforce the federal law, while you can still put an emphasis on rehabilitation, which we’ve done in New Jersey,” he said.
In January 2016 he said that efforts to enact state-level legalization “sends an awful message to our children, and an awful message of a lack of productivity in our economy when people can go to work in Colorado high.” He added that “kids are getting high in the Colorado schools as we speak,” saying that if he was consuming cannabis while taking math and physics classes as a student, “there’d be no chance I’d be able to do it.”
At a ribbon cutting ceremony for a drug rehabilitation center in 2015, Christie remarked that he considered tax revenue collected from regulate marijuana sales to be “blood money,” saying that he’s “not going to put the lives of children and citizens at risk to put a little more money into the state coffers, at least not on my watch.”
He also suggested that his stance on cannabis will not be influenced by public opinion, regardless of the popularity of legalization.
“I don’t care quite frankly that people think it’s inevitable,” Christie said in 2014.
“It’s not inevitable here. I’m not going to permit it. Never, as long as I’m governor,” he said, six years before voters approved an adult-use legalization referendum. “You want to elect somebody else who’s willing to legalize marijuana and expose our children to that gateway drug and the effects it has on their brain? You’ll have to live with yourself if you do that. But it’s not going to be this governor who does it.”
He also questioned the idea that there was significant demand for medical cannabis under the state’s program and described the reform as “a front for legalization.”
In 2016, he dismissed criticism about restrictions in the state’s medical marijuana law after being asked about a family that moved to Colorado because of that state’s more flexible policies.
“The fact is we signed into law the ability for children to get medical marijuana under very strict guidelines. This is a medical program, not a recreational program,” he said, adding, “I am an anti-marijuana guy.”
That said, Christie has recognized the therapeutic benefits of cannabis for some people and said that laws around medical marijuana should “be made state-by-state.”
“I don’t want it used recreationally, but for medical purposes, it’s helpful for certain adult illness and certain pediatric illness,” he said. “So where it’s helpful and when a doctor prescribes it, I have no problem with it.”
Despite believing that marijuana can be an effective therapeutic tool for some people, he said in 2015 that he wouldn’t move to reschedule cannabis under federal law, asserting that he “cannot administratively fix that and I will not administratively fix it.”
“I am for limited medical use, not mandated by the federal government, but permissive by the federal government,” he said. “And each state has a different point of view because each state is permitted to have a different point of view on this issue.”
Although Christie has strongly opposed cannabis legalization, he has also sharply criticized the war on drugs as a failed policy.
“We will end the failed war on drugs that believes that incarceration is the cure of every ill caused by drug abuse,” he said during his second inaugural address as governor in 2014. “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 that every life has value and no life is disposable.”
The governor said during his 2016 State of the State address that, “Instead of prosecuting a failed war on drugs—a war on our own citizens—we’ve classified drug addiction as the illness it truly is, and worked to treat and rehabilitate some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
More recently, during an appearance on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” in 2022, Christie defended his opposition to marijuana legalization while he was serving as governor, but acknowledged that his successor had the right to change course.
“I was not going to permit it to be a recreational legal drug in New Jersey. I didn’t permit it to be. And now we have a new guy [that] came after me and he permitted it,” he said, referring to Gov. Phil Murphy (D). “Am I like standing in the corner holding my breath saying, ‘I can’t believe you did that?’ No. He gets to make the judgments now. He made the call.”
He said in a 2021 interview that he’s “not somebody who’s in favor” of federal marijuana reform, explaining that data on overdose deaths from other drugs partly informs his position.
I started off my Friday morning on @SirusXM with @JulieMason where we discussed marijuana legislation and my book among a number of other topics. #ICYMI, click the link to listen: https://t.co/Q8pTDIfd7j
— Chris Christie (@GovChristie) July 16, 2021
“In my experience, truly, marijuana for so many people has become, and that always has been, a gateway drug,” he said. “I think we have serious drug addiction problems in this country. And I think until we begin to get those under control, it’s not the right time to be adding another drug to the list of legal drugs in this country.”
Pressed on how to resolve the tension between conflicting state and federal marijuana policy, he noted that the country was “nowhere near a majority of states to truly legalize it,” and “we’re still a Republic that depends upon states” and limited federal government.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
Asked in 2012 whether he’d ever used marijuana, Christie said that “the answer is no.”
@[email protected] The answer is no
— Chris Christie (@GovChristie) June 27, 2012
Marijuana Under A Christie Presidency
In some respects, it does seem that Christie has evolved since declaring his intent to crack down on local marijuana markets during his 2016 bid by more recently signaling a greater willingness to respect states’ rights to enact their own policies.
That said, the candidate has given little reason to believe that he’d seek to proactively reform federal marijuana laws in a way that aligns with the will of the majority of voters who back legalization.
While his record is marked by criticism of people who consume cannabis—as well as state-level recreational legalization—his more recent comments leave an open question as to how he would navigate the issue under the current policy landscape.