NJ: On Marijuana, Murphy Gives Christie A Taste Of His Own Medicine

Photo Credit: Reuters

I was talking with a lobbyist for the marijuana industry the other day when I noticed that he had pulled off a rather neat switch in terminology.

Instead of using the term “recreational marijuana” he substituted “adult-use” marijuana.

Nice move. The term “recreational marijuana” makes it sound like  you smoked some pot before heading down to the den to play a game of bumper pool.

“Adult-use,” by comparison, implies that you’re over 21 and can already buy things like cigarettes and vodka – so what  harm could a little weed do?

Whatever you call it, marijuana is legal in many states and is on track to become legal in New Jersey.

That became even more certain after Gov. Phil Murphy’s announcement that he is taking immediate steps to make it easier to get medicinal marijuana – much easier.

The speech was peppered with shots at his predecessor, such as his telling New Jerseyans that “help is on the way” after “all of the bureaucratic nonsense thrown at you for too long.”

The ex-baseball player doing the throwing was  Chris Christie. On this as on other issues, Christie put his national ambitions ahead of the state’s interests with the goal of someday becoming president.

One problem: He had little understanding of the national mood, even among his fellow Republicans. Most of the other contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination  – including the guy who markets Trump Vodka – took a states’ rights position on the issue of legalization.

Christie promised that if elected he’d have his Attorney General shut down all those laboratories of democracy – and cannabis.

But he was stuck on the issue of medicinal marijuana. When a patient asked Christie about it in his first year, he replied, “Thank you. And — and — I don’t think — all I’m saying is this …”

The reason for his stumbling was not far to seek. Medicinal marijuana is just as illegal under federal law as adult/recreational  weed.

So how can the law distinguish between an office worker trying to dull the pain of a slipped disc and a Grateful Dead fan trying to dull the pain of a Jerry Garcia guitar solo?

Poorly at best. If a drug makes a person feel better, as opposed to worse, then it’s difficult to draw a line establishing the conditions for use of that drug.

The Christie approach was to erect many roadblocks to medicinal usage, such as a $200 permitting fee that Murphy is cutting to $100 – and a mere $20 for senior citizens.

But if marijuana is a medicine, why have a fee at all? There’s no fee for opioids, to mention another drug the abuse of which Christie tried to use as a path to prominence nationally.

Murphy got in some subtle digs on that issue as well when he proposed that marijuana be prescribed for those trying to wean themselves off opioids – or should I say “recreational opioids?”

Christie, of course, claims that marijuana is a “gateway drug” to opioids. This is a classic example of what scientists call the “post-hoc, ergo propter hoc” fallacy – the idea that if one thing follows another thing, then the first is the cause of the second.

Murphy proposes swinging the gate in the opposite direction.

“For all the money we’ve spent in this state to get at the root of this epidemic, there’s a weapon left on the table,” he said.

What he didn’t say is something that conservatives like the late economist Milton Friedman and the late National Review publisher William F. Buckley said: If you crack down on relatively weak recreational drugs like marijuana, people will switch to more powerful drugs like the opioids.

That’s why this widening of the medicinal guidelines is likely to be the gateway to full legalization, at least according to the legislator who has the most say on the matter.

Senate President Steve Sweeney told me that he expects to see full legalization in the not-too-distant future.

The Gloucester County Democrat said that on a tour of Colorado with other legislators, he saw convincing evidence that that state’s legalization of marijuana  has reduced opioid abuse.

“From what I saw in Colorado, they were showing that opioid use was down because if someone had a choice this is a better choice,” Sweeney said.

As a form of recreation, it’s a better choice than cigarettes or vodka.

But it’s not up there with bumper pool.