New Jersey’s Republican governor has joined a long and growing list of politicians from both sides of the political aisle in slamming the 40-year war on drugs as a failure.
Speaking Monday at a Washington, D.C. event hosted by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization, Gov. Chris Christie had harsh words for the drug war began by President Richard Nixon in 1971 and accelerated by Ronald Reagan a decade later.
“The war on drugs, while well-intentioned, has been a failure,” Christie declared. “We’re warehousing addicted people every day in state prisons in New Jersey, giving them no treatment.”
Christie continued with his public health critique of the drug war, adding that “you can certainly make the argument that no one should try drugs in the first place… but tens of millions of people in our society do every year, and for some people they can try it and walk away from it, but for others the first time they try it they become an addict, and they’re sick and they need treatment.”
The governor cited the high cost of locking up drug offenders in a time of fiscal crisis, pointing out that it is cheaper to treat than incarcerate addicts.
“It costs us $49,000 a year to warehouse a prisoner in New Jersey state prisons last year,” he said. “A full year of inpatient drug treatment costs $24,000 a year.”
Christie also referenced his pro-life stance, arguing that “pro-life” doesn’t just apply to the unborn.
“If you’re pro-life, as I am, you can’t be pro-life just in the womb,” he asserted. “Every life is precious and every one of God’s creatures can be redeemed, but they won’t if we ignore them.”
Christie touted his state’s recently-passed legislation that sentences first-time, non-violent drug offenders to a year of drug treatment instead of prison as model legislation worthy of emulation.
Gov. Christie’s relatively progressive stance stands squarely at odds with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s position on the drug war. At an August 2011 campaign event in New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts governor told his audience that America needed to “not only continue our war on drugs from a police standpoint but also to market again to our young people about the perils of drugs,” much as the Reagan administration did during the “Just Say No” 1980s.
But Gov. Christie now finds himself among the company of a growing number of world leaders, US law enforcement officials and politicians of all political stripes who argue that the drug war is futile endeavor that is failing miserably.
Reps. Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA) in 2011 introduced a bill that would have ended federal prohibition of marijuana. Other sponsors of that measure included Reps. John Conyers, Steven Cohen, Jared Polis and Barbara Lee, all Democrats.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican, has also called for the legalization of marijuana, arguing that it would lead to a 75 percent reduction in drug-related violence along the US-Mexican border. Johnson is currently running for president as a Libertarian and promises bold drug policy reform, including legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol or tobacco.
“The billions saved on marijuana interdiction, along with the billions captured as legal revenue, can be redirected against the individuals committing real crimes against society,” Johnson’s campaign website states.
Even President Barack Obama’s drug czar, Gil Kerlikowske, has called for an end to the drug war, even as the administration ramps up its controversial war on medical marijuana despite earlier promises of a hands-off approach.
These and other critics point to a drug war that is an utter failure and a travesty of justice for millions of Americans, mostly poor people of color, caught up in it. Forty years, a trillion dollars and hundreds of thousands of lost lives later, none of the stated goals of the drug war have been met. Drug use is as rampant as ever, drugs are flooding across our nation’s borders, America’s criminal justice system is overwhelmed, our nation’s prisons and jails are bursting at the seams with mostly non-violent drug offenders and countries like Mexico and Colombia have been wracked by savage drug-related violence.
Drug war detractors claim that the only winners in continued prohibition are the international drug lords who control the global narcotics trade, which is worth an estimated $320 billion annually– or 1 percent of the world’s total commerce– and the prison-industrial complex in the United States which reaps enormous profits from the mass incarceration of non-violent drug offenders, disproportionately blacks and Latinos, many of whom spend years behind bars– even life— for marijuana-related offenses.