Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jun 2014
Source: Citizens' Voice, The (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Jill Colvin, Associated Press
Page: A11


TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - On no one's early list of issues likely to 
headline the 2016 Republican presidential primaries is the nation's 
"war on drugs."

Chris Christie plans to put it there.

The New Jersey governor, steadily pushing himself back into the 2016 
discussion after a political scandal at home, recently marked the 
43rd anniversary of President Richard Nixon's famous declaration by 
expanding a program that equips first responders with a drug to 
combat heroin overdoses.

The next day, he told recovering addicts at a drug treatment center 
that "there is simply no more important issue to me, in my heart as governor."

"I have to struggle with fiscal problems and tax problems and job 
creation and health care and education, lots of other issues that are 
clearly important. And I'm not trying to minimize those," Christie 
said. "But you need to understand that as a father there's nothing 
more important to me than this."

It might sound like a peculiar topic for a blue state Republican 
governor to claim as a signature issue ahead of a potential 
presidential bid. And consider that he probably will be competing in 
primaries dominated by conservative voters who might be expected to 
favor law-and-order candidates.

A few states are experimenting with decriminalizing marijuana amid a 
nationwide boom in heroin abuse. Also, several Republicans gover nors 
h ave embraced prison and sentencing reform as a way of saving money.

So Christie could find a receptive audience for his message.

"I think what 10 years ago was perceived as largely an urban problem 
has become a national problem," said Steve Duprey, New Hampshire's 
former Republican state chairman and current member of the Republican 
National Committee. "It is a big issue."

In an early test of the message before GOP activists, Christie won 
applause at a Washington conference hosted by the Faith and Freedom 
Coalition, a g roup led by longtime Christian activist Ralph Reed, as 
he made the case for treatment instead of incarceration.

Christie went as far as to compare the issue of addiction to that of abortion.

"I believe if you're prolife, as I am, you need to be pro-life for 
the whole life. You can't just afford to be pro-life when the human 
being is in the womb," he said.

Christie's history with drug policy dates to his first elected 
position in county government 20 years ago, when he was assigned to 
oversee human services and wound up working with Daytop New Jersey, 
an addiction treatment center. He joined the group's board and has 
been personally contributing and steering state money to fund its 
operations ever since.

The issue became more personal eight years ago, when one of 
Christie's best friends from law school - the smartest and most 
successful of a tight-knit group, as he tells it - developed an 
addiction to prescription drugs.

Christie said his friend went through a dozen treatment programs as 
he lost his job, got divorced and became estranged from his three 
young daughters. Earlier this year, Christie got a Sunday morning 
call with word his 52-year-old friend had been found dead in a 
suburban New York motel room, along with empty bottles of Percocet and vodka.

"It just made me believe the words that I had actually said 
previously even more - that this could happen to anyone," Christie 
said in an interview.

Christie isn't an advocate of the same kind of sweeping changes to 
the nation's drug laws as those on the left who share his opinion the 
war on drugs is a trillion-dollar "failure."

While he has expanded the use of drug courts in New Jersey and pushed 
through a measure forcing individuals arrested for minor drug 
offenses to complete drug treatment programs, the for mer U.S. 
attorney remains opposed to the legalization of marijuana.

"For him to say that he believes that the war on drugs has failed and 
then to also believe that people should continue being prosecuted and 
criminalized for nonviolent offenses like simple possession of 
marijuana for personal use ... there's this inherent inconsistency," 
said Udi Ofer, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties 
Union of New Jersey. "He has to choose which side he's on."

Christie is undeterred by such criticism and is willing to address 
the politics of his choice of issue directly. He said he believes his 
position will "play well" in other states.

"There are drug addicts in Ohio and in Wisconsin and in Florida and 
Iowa and New Hampshire," he said. "And I think those people will 
understand the truth of what we're talking about and I think will be 
happy that we're out here publicly discussing ways to really give 
people the tools to deal with it."

Grover Norquist, the antitax advocate and a libertarian-leaning 
leader in the GOP, said the conversation about drugs has changed 
since the crack epidemic of the 1980s, when drugs and crime were 
thought to go hand in hand. It's an issue that could also give GOP 
primary voters something to remember about Christie that isn't 
related to clogging a bridge with traffic to score political points.

"I think it is the sort of thing that would make somebody say, 
'Here's a serious person struggling with serious issues,"' Norquist 
said. "It would certainly give people more willingness to take a look 
at you again."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom