A freshman Republican congressman on Thursday condemned New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for “outrageous” statements he made comparing medical cannabis legalization efforts to the origins of the current opioid epidemic.
“It is shortsighted, it is inaccurate and it is indefensible to suggest that the proliferation of medical cannabis — that is saving lives and improving quality of life for people — somehow is analogous to the plague of the opioid crisis,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) said at a press conference organized by the American Legion, which is calling for legalization and research of medical marijuana for U.S. military veterans.
Christie, a Republican, is chairman of President Donald Trump’s Commission on Combating Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis. In a letter announcing recommendations made by the commission Wednesday, Christie compared the recent proliferation of medical cannabis laws to the over-prescribing of opioids that led to the current epidemic.
“There is a lack of sophisticated outcome data on dose, potency, and abuse potential for marijuana,” Christie wrote towards the end of a seven-page cover letter accompanying the commission’s report. “This mirrors the lack of data in the 1990’s [sic] and early 2000’s [sic] 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.”
Gaetz dismissed Christie’s logic on Thursday, asserting that to stem the ongoing crisis, the country should have the maximum number of options available — including medical cannabis — to prevent people from turning to opioids.
“The federal government has lied to the American people for a generation about cannabis in asserting that it has no medical value,” Gaetz said. “I can tell you it is not true.”
The first-term congressman representing the Florida Panhandle is co-sponsor of legislation to transfer marijuana to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act from its current standing as a Schedule I substance, the strictest of the classifications.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida (Steve Cannon, Associated Press File)
House Bill 2020 would uphold the rights of states that have legalized the medical use of cannabis, allow for banking activities and create a clearer path for research, Gaetz told The Cannabist in April.
When Gaetz was a Florida state legislator in 2014 and 2015, he backed legislation to legalize “non-euphoric” marijuana for medical use and a bill to allow terminally ill patients to access full-strength, non-smokeable cannabis. Both were signed into law.
Christie has repeatedly stated his opposition to legalizing marijuana.
He left no doubt about his opinion of cannabis in an April 2014 radio interview:
“I don’t care that people think it’s inevitable. It’s not inevitable here. I’m not going to permit it — never — as long as I’m governor. You wanna 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.”
In September 2016, he issued a signing statement to a state measure allowing medical cannabis to treat PTSD to require other means of treatment before a doctor could recommend cannabis in order to prevent “misuse.”
Last June, he called a hearing in the New Jersey Senate on legislation to legalize marijuana a “dog-and-pony show.”
Next week, New Jerseyans will go to the polls to vote for Christie’s replacement. Democrat Phil Murphy, who currently holds a 15 percentage-point lead in the gubernatorial race, has said he will legalize recreational marijuana in the state.
The draft 131-page report and recommendations by the commission chaired by Christie mention marijuana several times in the context of “addictive” and “psychoactive” substances, and the section on drug testing puts marijuana in the same category as coke or meth, referring to “illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, or methamphetamine.”