In a field of Republican presidential candidates who mostly seem willing to let states go their own way on marijuana, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has distinguished himself by promising to reverse legalization in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Although the political wisdom of that minority position is debatable, Christie is not retreating. To the contrary:
"If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," Christie, a Republican campaigning for the 2016 presidential nomination, said Tuesday during a town-hall meeting at the Salt Hill Pub in Newport, New Hampshire. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws."
Christie seems to think he can show how tough he is by picking a fight with peaceful cannabis consumers. But in the unlikely event that he is elected president on the strength of such threats, voters who found them appealing are bound to be disappointed.
It is clearly absurd to suggest that no one in Colorado will be getting high under a Christie administration. The feds play a very small role in marijuana enforcement, accounting for less than 1 percent of arrests, and they cannot constitutionally compel states that have rejected prohibition to help enforce the federal ban. Even when state and federal governments work together, they have never managed to arrest a significant share of consumers or dealers, let alone come close to shutting down the black market. People were getting high in Colorado long before the state legalized their supply, and they will continue to get high no matter what the next president does.
Another obstacle to Christie's cannabis crackdown: Three of the four states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use, plus the District of Columbia, allow home cultivation as well as commercial production. A determined prohibitionist in the White House, aided by DEA agents and federal prosecutors, could make life difficult for state-licensed growers and retailers, albeit at the cost of antagonizing political leaders in the states with legal pot (a list that probably will have expanded by the time the next president takes office). Going after thousands of scattered home growers, each of whom is free to share his produce with friends and neighbors, would be considerably harder. The federal government simply does not have the resources for such an eradication campaign.
Christie's threat, in other words, is not only inconsistent with Republicans' avowed support for federalism; it is utterly fantastical. He cannot possibly deliver on his implied promise to wipe out cannabis consumption in Colorado, which reflects either his overestimation of his own powers or (I hope) his underestimation of Republican voters' intelligence.
Watch Christie respond to a question about his resistance to medical marijuana in New Jersey: