Chris Christie has spoken eloquently and passionately about the perils of nicotine addiction. His mother was diagnosed with lung cancer after decades of smoking. In one speech, he says she began smoking when she was 16.
Given this information, it’s odd that Christie would veto legislation raising the smoking age to 21 in the state of New Jersey.
The movement to raise the smoking age across the nation is gaining momentum. The state of Hawaii has already done so, along with 115 cities and counties. The tobacco industry spends $9.6 billion a year to market their products, and youths are among the most susceptible.
Tobacco remains the number one cause of preventable death, killing around 480,000 people each year. Compare that to alcohol, which comes in at around 88,000 deaths per year, but is unavailable to anyone below the age of 21. Compare it to marijuana, where possession of 50 grams or less can lead to six months of incarceration or a fine of $1,000 in the state of New Jersey, but causes next to no deaths per year.
In fact, pot arrests in New Jersey have increased in the past year even as the state considers legalizing it.
Richard Smith, the president of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference called New Jersey’s crackdown on marijuana a “civil rights issue” as the majority of the people arrested for possession in New Jersey are black:
“Black individuals in New Jersey are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana as whites, despite similar usage rates. This is a civil rights issue.”
What this recent veto reveals is the influence of the tobacco industry in state governments and inconsistent leadership in the state of New Jersey. At the Republican debate last September, Rand Paul called Christie out by name for his marijuana policy, saying:
“Governor Christie would go into Colorado, and if you’re breaking any federal law on marijuana, even though the state law allows it, he would put you in jail,” Paul said. “If a young mother is trying to give her child cannabis oil for medical marijuana for seizure treatment, he would put her in jail if it violates federal law.”
This is after Christie called marijuana a “gateway drug.”
Perhaps the marijuana lobby doesn’t hold quite the same sway as the tobacco lobby.
It will be interesting to see if Christie is pushed on this. Such blatant hypocrisy should be called out, and we should be asking why we have so many people (usually of color) in jail for marijuana possession while the tobacco industry is free to market nicotine to young people.