At the second Republican presidential debate, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claimed that he’s “not against medical marijuana.” But his exchange with a registered cannabis nurse this week seems to suggest otherwise.
On Wednesday at an event in Newton, Iowa, cannabis nurse and Gulf War veteran Shelly Van Winkle asked Christie how he would balance states’ rights to legalize medicinal marijuana with the fact that federal law still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug. Would he do anything to address the confusion?
The exchange got tense, quickly. Christie said he would enforce the existing federal laws criminalizing cannabis, and said he would not act administratively to change them. And when Van Winkle countered that “Cannabis is medicine,” Christie disagreed:
Christie: “That’s your opinion. I respect your opinion, but I disagree with it. Now, there are limited instances in [New Jersey] where we allow folks to use marijuana for medical purposes, but it is a medical program and it’s for only certain, specific diseases — you have to get a doctor to write a prescription for it. Those doctors have to be registered with the state, and we have to monitor what they’re doing.”
Van Winkle: “But under federal law, a doctor can’t write a prescription. They can only recommend. Because it’s a Schedule 1 substance. That’s the problem.”
Christie: “You’re asking me what I would do as president. I’m not going to get into a debate with you. You and I have different views.”
Christie then argued that as president, he wouldn’t be able to change the medical marijuana laws either way. Instead, he said, he would need an act of Congress to change the laws.
Christie: “I could not administratively fix it and I will not administratively fix it.”
Van Winkle: “Under federalism, you could.”
Christie: “No, not under federalism. Federalism is a concept, it’s not a law. Okay? “
Christie then accused Van Winkle of not wanting a real answer to her question.
“Listen, do you want an answer? Or do you want to continue to video me, so that 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,” Christie said.
Watch it here:
Marijuana advocates have long-questioned Christie’s stated support for medical marijuana, citing his promises to aggressively crack down on enforcing existing federal marijuana law, which classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug. That promise means states like Colorado and Washington, which have legalized recreational cannabis, would be subject to federal prosecution under a Christie administration.
But Christie has countered, arguing that his support for medical marijuana is proven by the fact that New Jersey allows doctors to prescribe marijuana for patients with certain debilitating diseases.
Christie’s exchange with Van Winkle, however, suggests that his crackdown on enforcement would also apply to medical marijuana. Ironically, that would mean that his own state’s medicinal marijuana program would be subject to federal prosecution.
Wednesday was not the first time Van Winkle, a Registered Nurse with the American Cannabis Nurses Association, has confronted a presidential candidate about medicinal pot. She had a tense exchange with Carly Fiorina last month over the merits of decriminalizing marijuana for patients like veterans with PTSD, and children with cancer.
To Van Winkle’s dismay, Fiorina responded with an outdated argument that doctors don’t know how marijuana reacts with other drugs, and indicated that she wouldn’t consider federal decriminalization.
Van Winkle is not for recreational marijuana, but she is passionate about the benefits cannabis can provide for veteran patients with PTSD. “Cannabis helps these people,” she told ThinkProgress back in September, recounting the high suicide rate among recent veterans. At least two states currently allow VA Hospitals to prescribe medical marijuana for PTSD.
Though Van Winkle said she expected Christie to oppose marijuana in general, she told ThinkProgress that she was disappointed that he wouldn’t acknowledge his authority to fix the current law.
“A presidential candidate should know the boundaries of the job he seeks,” she said.