Fresh from another weekend spent on the golf course, the sting of his total failure to repeal and replace Obamacare forgotten, Donald Trump came in hot on Monday. The nation awoke to news of an assemblage of technocrats led by presidential son-in-law and residential Israel/technology/business expert Jared Kushner, to be deployed to apply business solutions to government problems.
As the Washington Post reported, deputized in Kushner’s “SWAT team” is a familiar face: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Christie, the early Trump supporter who was likely expecting the plum post of attorney general as his reward, will instead chair an official commission tasked with tackling the country’s opiate epidemic.
According to Mother Jones, the “President’s Commission on Combating Opioid Abuse, Addiction, and Overdose” is supposed to investigate the ongoing crisis, which claims tens of thousands of lives annually, and present a report—with recommended solutions—by October.
Christie, keep in mind, was widely rumored to be a favorite for attorney general, his reward for being the first Republican presidential contender to turn cuck and back Trump. Depending on whom you ask—and, given the chance, you should absolutely ask Jared Kushner—Christie’s chances for a Cabinet post evaporated either when it became clear his former aides would go to prison as part of the Bridgegate scandal, or when Kushner, whose father Christie prosecuted and put in jail as a U.S. attorney, consolidated more clout with his father-in-law.
Either way, putting Christie—who has spent the last few months trying out his hot takes on conservative talk radio—in charge of solving the country’s opiate epidemic is a great choice… if you have no interest in honest, workable solutions that might solve the country’s opiate epidemic.
You can’t blame the opiate epidemic on any one person any more than you can blame it on any one thing. Yes, doctors flooded the country with prescription pills, but Big Pharma was egging them on and economically depressed areas were eager for an escape. At the same time, Chris Christie’s record on this issue is absolutely terrible.
Since Christie became governor, the death toll in New Jersey due to opiates has increased 214 percent—a rate of increase two-and-a-half times greater than the national average. In 2015, nearly 1,400 people in New Jersey died from an opiate overdose, according to the Star-Ledger. The epidemic is out of control in New Jersey, and whatever Christie is doing, you could make the argument, he is making it worse
So, about that. What is Christie doing? As the Star-Ledger reported, the governor has pledged an extra $100 million towards treatment and prevention. This is where the state’s supply of Narcan overdose reversal drugs are coming from. That’s all great.
But it cannot be left unsaid that as this crisis worsened, Christie has repeatedly slowed down or thwarted New Jersey’s medical marijuana program, which is still struggling to supply patients with cannabis. (This is the same Chris Christie who vowed, if he were to be elected president, to shut down marijuana legalization in its tracks.)
And cannabis, study after study shows, is turning out to be an effective substitute for opiate-based painkillers, as well as a possible tool for opiate addicts to wean off of heroin or pills.
“Opiates are not the end-all for pain relief. They numb you out, incapacitate you, give you constipation, and lead to an addiction, and in many cases, lead to overdose and death. They have some serious abuse characteristics,” David Sutton, COO of NanoSphere Health Science, told Denver-based Westword. “They kind of just make your head a little fuzzy and make you care less about it, but they don’t treat the root cause. I think cannabis does… It treats the root cause and is more effective.”
There are some progressives who feel Christie will do well in this post. As Mother Jones pointed out, under Christie, New Jersey’s prison population has plummeted, Narcan is available at pharmacies and drug users who call 911 to report an overdose in progress can’t be prosecuted.
“He’s one of the best people in his party on the issue,” as Keith Humphreys, a Stanford University professor and former adviser to the Obama administration, told the magazine. “I wouldn’t vouch for this effort, but I’d vouch for him—if he was given any serious platform, he could do some good things.”
But there are plenty other things wrong with the commission that has nothing to do with Christie.
Trump’s proposed budget makes deep cuts to health and human services. It remains to be seen if the commission will have any funding or any kind of power—or if anyone in the Cabinet or anywhere else will listen to it. And look at who he’s working with:
Members of the commission will include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.
Sessions, recall, declared in prepared remarks that marijuana is “only slightly less” awful than heroin. And Price was one of the most reliable anti-marijuana votes in Congress.
With co-conspirators like these, it may not matter who is at the helm. It is all but certain that this commission will not consider cannabis.
We hope we’re wrong on this, but if we’re not, ideology will have triumphed over policy, and people will have died as a result. Wouldn’t be the first time.