WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has become the latest leader to condemn the now 40-year-old war on drugs.
"The war on drugs, while well-intentioned, has been a failure," Christie said Monday during a speech at The Brookings Institution. "We're warehousing addicted people everyday in state prisons in New Jersey, giving them no treatment."
Christie stressed the merits of legislation recently passed by New Jersey state lawmakers that institutes a year of mandatory treatment for first-time, nonviolent drug offenders instead of jail time. The mandatory treatment program, slated to be put in place in at least three counties during its first year, will eventually expand statewide over the next five years.
Christie, one of the few Republican lawmakers to actively speak out against the effects of America's drug war policies, sought to put a conservative moral spin on his position.
"If you're pro-life, as I am, you can't be pro-life just in the womb," he said. "Every life is precious and every one of God's creatures can be redeemed, but they won't if we ignore them."
Perhaps to blunt conservative criticism of the cost of such a program to the state, Christie argued in favor of the economics of drug treatment over incarceration.
"It costs us $49,000 a year to warehouse a prisoner in New Jersey state prisons last year," Christie said. "A full year of inpatient drug treatment costs $24,000 a year."
Christie's strong stance on the war on drugs and drug treatment contrasts sharply with the less-defined series of positions on drug policy taken by presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. A recent overview of Romney's past statements on drugs, undertaken by The Atlantic, concluded that the former Massachusetts governor's position has been difficult to pin down.
While in 2007 Romney was quoted in support of the war on drugs and spending overseas to staunch the production and importation of drugs into the United States, he later shifted his position, calling the drug war "disappointing" due to the disparity between funds spent on foreign enforcement and those used for domestic anti-drug education efforts.
During the 2012 Republican primary, Romney again returned to the topic of education when asked about the drug war, telling a crowd in New Hampshire, "We've got to not only continue our war on drugs from a police standpoint but also to market again to our young people about the perils of drugs."
Gov. Christie, however, emphasizes a focus on the longer term problem of what to do with those already involved with and convicted of drug use.
"You can certainly make the argument that no one should try drugs in the first place, I certainly am in that camp," Christie said, "but tens of millions of people in our society do every year, and for some people they can try it and walk away from it, but for others the first time they try it they become an addict, and they're sick and they need treatment."
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