Dear Chris Christie: Forcing All First-Time Drug Offenders Into Rehab Is Not Compassionate, But It Is a Waste of Money
In a speech before the Brookings Institution, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie talked about a new law in his state that sends all first-time drug offenders to state-run rehab. "If you're pro-life, as I am, you can't be pro-life just in the womb," Christie said in defending the law to conservatives.
Just weeks after New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill that would establish a program offering medical treatment for non-violent drug offenders instead of jail time, Christie, a possible vice presidential contender, praised the measure during a speech in Washington, D.C.
"If you're pro-life, as I am, you can't be pro-life just in the womb. Every life is precious and every one of God's creatures can be redeemed," Christie said during a wide-ranging Monday morning address at the Brookings Institution, a public policy research organization. "But they won't be if we ignore them. … I believe that the results will show after this is fully implemented will be startling because people can be treated and miracles happen every day at these facilities. Lives are restored."
In a move that sets Christie apart from the many Republicans who take a hard line on drug enforcement, Christie predicted that the recently passed measure, which mandates drug rehabilitation treatment for first time non-violent offenders, would be a success. He added that drug abuse should be considered an issue of "disease" in the eyes of the law, and not a criminal one.
There are many, many problems with the drug-control model New Jersey has adopted, starting with the fact that in many states, diverted drug users face harsher sentences for relapsing than they would have if they'd plea bargained their initial drug charges. But the bigger problem is that New Jersey's policy–like Obama's wider drug control strategy–is not reflective of reality. Not every illicit drug user is an addict, which means not every illicit drug user needs addiction recovery services.
Putting a college sophomore caught with a month's worth of pot through rehab is less sadistic than putting him in prison, but it's not compassionate, and it's not criminal justice reform. In fact, it's more like a game of three-card Monte.
Furthermore, it's not a way to save money. Instead of paying a state prison to ruin a recreational user's job prospects and criminalize him, you're paying a drug counselor to ask him why he can't just throw back a few shots of Ketel One like a law-abiding citizen, a social worker to visit his house and ask his kids what their daddy does at night, and a toxicology lab to check his piss for THC. You may waste less money by doing this to him for six months to a year, instead of six years to ten, but you aren't saving money. You're simply wasting that money more benignly, and turning otherwise law-abiding, productive members of society into wards of the state.