In the latest example of an out of touch Republican telling Americans they aren't pious enough, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has called marijuana taxes "blood money."
Christie told a gathering of law enforcement officials and substance abuse professionals that legal marijuana "should not be permitted in our society because it sends the wrong message," the Asbury Park Press reports. The comments were made at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a local branch of the Daytop outpatient rehabilitation facility.
"Every bit of objective data tells us that it's a gateway drug to other drugs. And it is not an excuse in our society to say that alcohol is legal so why not make marijuana legal. ... Well, why not make heroin legal? Why not make cocaine legal?" Christie added. "You know, their argument is a slippery slope."
"To me, that's blood money," he said. "I'm 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."
Citations needed, Christie. The Garden State governor has long relied on his reputation as a blunt, say-it-like-it-is straight talker, so it's beyond hypocritical for him to be parroting this kind of misinformation about marijuana. Christie's stance isn't only lacking in evidence — it flies in the face of most scientific research on weed, as well as the lessons being learned through recreational marijuana legalization experiments in four separate states.
Calling marijuana taxes "blood money" might be some good red meat to toss to the law enforcement crowd, but it's not backed by any scientific evidence. Not only is it actually nearly impossible to die from overdosing on weed, the other ways marijuana can supposedly kill people are only tangential.
The CDC reports that tobacco kills 480,000 people a year. Alcohol killed 29,001 (excluding accidents and homicides) and prescription drug overdoses killed 22,767 in 2013. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, heroin and cocaine overdoses killed over 8,000 and 5,000 respectively. Marijuana's overdose fatality total is zero.
Compared to that death toll, marijuana looks pretty friendly. In Colorado, where marijuana has been legal for over a year, traffic fatalities are at near-historic lows. A 2010 study published in the Lancet attempted to rank the relative harms of various substances to the U.K. and found that marijuana came in eighth place, behind both tobacco and alcohol, which ranked first. "Blood money" indeed.
Real blood money: But if we did want to take the notion of "blood money" seriously, we might examine the United States' trillion-dollar war on drugs, which has had little impact on Americans' ability to buy drugs but has led to the U.S. incarcerating more people than any other country, on both an absolute and per-capita basis. AlterNet has consistently reported at least one death a week since January 2011 in the U.S. from drug law enforcement.
Or we might look at Mexico, where decades of failed drug-control efforts have resulted in the rise of drug cartels and corrupt law enforcement responsible for somewhere between 40,000-125,000 deaths, as well as an additional 27,000 "missing" people. America is complicit in this violence through its support of a proxy war in Mexico against drug cartels, which make no small share of their income from marijuana and therefore view marijuana legalization as a major threat to their profit margins.
If we're going to talk "blood money," we might also talk about the fact that marijuana taxes in Colorado are going to fund substance abuse programs in schools, which might keep some of those kids from dying of a heroin overdose someday. Or about how $40 million of that revenue is going to a fund to build schools. Or how the state is arresting tens of thousands fewer people a year, presumably freeing up some police resources to focus on more serious crime.
Christie is wrong in other ways, too. Far from "every bit of objective data" supporting the gateway drug hypothesis, scientists have generally disregarded the notion that marijuana prepares young folks for a life of abusing cocaine and heroin for years.
A 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine concluded that weed "does not appear to be a gateway drug to the extent that it is the cause or even that it is the most significant predictor of serious drug abuse."
As the Marijuana Policy Project points out, while "over 107 million Americans — more than 40% of the U.S. population born since 1960 — have tried marijuana", just 4 million Americans have ever used heroin.
Dr. Karen Van Gundy, who led a University of New Hampshire study on the subject, told CBS News that the chances someone graduates from marijuana to harder illicit drugs depends less on the substance and more on exterior factors like stress and job security, "not so much whether they smoked a joint in the eighth grade."
Christie isn't just wrong. He's so wrong that it should insult your intelligence. What's more, he's calling Americans moral sellouts. Polling by the General Social Survey now shows that 52% of Americans support marijuana legalization, confirming continued majority support for recreational weed first noted by Gallup in 2014. Even a strong majority of young Republicans support legal weed.
Christie says more than half the country is in favor of "blood money." For someone who lives in a glass house, he's sure eager to throw stones.