Chris Christie's Pot Debate With Nurse Suggests Rough Welcome in Colorado

Every political observer currently drawing breath expects marijuana to be a topic of discussion during the Republican presidential debate at the University of Colorado at Boulder on October 28.

Given Colorado's status as the first state to legalize limited recreational cannabis sales, the tie-in is a natural — and if the subject comes up, the aspirant likely to be a focus of the conversation is someone who's gotten comparatively little spotlight time at previous debates this campaign season: New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.


Christie is among the most vocal candidates when it comes to opposing marijuana legalization — something he proved recently again in a video debate with a nurse at a campaign appearance in Iowa.

The conversation, on view below, has gotten attention in part because of Christie's hard-line rep about weed. Note that the Marijuana Policy Project gave him a grade of "F" when it came to cannabis policies, tying him with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum (who's been relegated to the under-card at the debate on the 28th).

And earlier this year during an interview with CBS' Face the Nation, Christie made a point of saying that he would crack down on marijuana laws in Colorado if he becomes president.

During that chat (on view below), Face the Nation host John Dickerson introduced the issue like so: "You've said marijuana is a gateway drug. If you were president, would you return to federal prosecutions in states like Colorado and Washington state?"

Christie's response: "Yes."

"If you're president, that's getting turned off?" Dickerson follows.

"Correct," Christie said.

Dickerson's next question: "How are you going to win in Colorado if you're doing that?"

"Listen, I think there are a lot of people in Colorado who aren't thrilled about what's going on there," he replied before asking, "You know how you win any state? You go out and tell people the truth and you lay out your ideas and you either win or you lose.

"When I went out and campaigned for folks in Colorado, I've said it," he continued, referencing the aforementioned comments during the Beauprez visit. "It's not like I'm going to pander or hide. I'm going to say what I think and if folks disagree, then they'll disagree. But I also don't think that'll be the only thing they vote on."

In recent days, Christie revisited these themes during a back-and-forth with a nurse in Newton, Iowa.

The video of the exchange goes on for several minutes, and toward the end, Christie becomes snippy.

"Listen, do you want an answer?" he asks the woman. "Or do you want to continue to video me so you can use that and put it on the Internet? Because that's what this is about. And I've had this done to me in other states as well.

"Let me be very clear," he went on. "As President of the United States, I will enforce the marijuana laws, because I believe marijuana is a gateway drug that causes our children and adults to use other drugs. I think it lowers productivity. I'm against recreational use.... And I am for limited medical use not mandated by the federal government, but permitted by the federal government."

At this point, the small group at the event broke into applause.

Will Christie receive a similar reception during Thursday's debate? Hard to say. Event organizers have worked hard to severely limit attendance by CU Boulder students, suggesting that those allowed to see Christie and other Republican presidential hopefuls at the campus' Coors Events Center won't include many young and raucous pro-pot types. But plenty of others taking part in the debate have more moderate cannabis policies than does Christie — even Donald Trump, who earned a "C" grade from the Marijuana Policy Project.

In the meantime, the Republican Party in general is fighting a potentially troubling perception issue when it comes to marijuana — one exemplified by the October 26 Guardian headline "Marijuana Businesses Voice Fear of a Republican President."

There's also the sense that Colorado legal-marijuana roll-out has worked better than critics predicted.

A new article from features the observations of a reporter from the Cincinnati Enquirer, who headed to Colorado as part of the newspaper's reporting about a pot legalization initiative on the Ohio ballot this year. Here are several things she didn't see or experience during her visit:
• Staggering stoners on city streets. It’s almost certain they’re around, somewhere, but in four days of driving Denver's streets, they weren’t visible.

• People smoking marijuana in public. It’s illegal – like smoking tobacco in public.

• That certain skunky smell. Unless inside a marijuana store, Colorado smelled like mountain air. And car exhaust. But mainly mountain air. Inside a store, though, was chaos, olfactorily speaking. At the retail story/dispensary Medicine Man, massive air cleaners prevent aromas of flowering marijuana from escaping outside.

• Impaired drivers. Except for the people who held cell phones to their ears. A trip to Colorado Springs on Interstate 25 revealed a surprising number of drivers who obeyed the speed limit. Which was 75 mph.
Factors like these imply that Christie will have an uphill battle should he choose to characterize marijuana legalization in Colorado as a terrible crisis.

Here's the aforementioned video of his conversation with an Iowa nurse and the CBS News video from earlier this year.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts