Posted with permission from NJ.com
(Ed Murray | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com)

PRINCETON -- Gov. Chris Christie on Monday unleashed a diatribe against the increasing push to legalize recreational marijuana in New Jersey, warning that it's "not time for us to be cool and say, 'Pot's O.K.'"

"This is beyond stupidity," the Republican governor, who has long been opposed to legalizing marijuana, said during a speech at a forum on substance abuse hosed by the New Jersey Hospital Association in Princeton. 

"We are in the midst of the public health crisis on opiates," added Christie, whom has been tapped by President Donald Trump to chair a commission to find ways to fight the opioid abuse epidemic in America. "But people are saying pot's O.K. This is nothing more than crazy liberals who want to say everything's O.K. 

"Baloney," he said.

Christie's comments came as leaders of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature are planning to introduce a bill next year that would make New Jersey the latest U.S. state to legalize, tax, and regulate recreational marijuana use. Eleven states and Washington D.C. have voted to make pot legal.

Editorial: Time to legalize weed in N.J.

Christie started the screed by noting an editorial that ran in what he called the "idiot" Star-Ledger and on NJ.com this weekend proclaiming that it's "time to legalize weed."

Christie also took aim at state Sen. Nick Scutari (D-Union), the main sponsor of the pending legislation; state Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester), who says he'll support it; and Phil Murphy, the Democratic front-runner in this year's governor's race to succeed Christie.

Democrats are hoping the governor who takes over for Christie in January will sign the bill. Murphy is in favor of legalization.

"If people like Nick Scutari and Steve Sweeney and Phil Murphy want to bring this poison into the state under the guise that it doesn't matter because people can buy it illegally anyway, then why not legalize heroin?" Christie asked. 

The governor, who has often warned that marijuana is a gateway to harder substances,  cited statistics from Pew Research that say a child who tries marijuana between the ages of 4 and 17 are 10 times more likely to be a heroin addict by the time the person is 24.

He also noted that 52,000 people died from opioid overdoses in the U.S. last year.

But Scutari said the difference is opioids are killing people, where marijuana is not, and marijuana is actually being used to treat opioid abuse. 

"If he's gonna say this is stupid, I'm going to say those comment are idiotic," Scutari said of Christie's remarks. "To try to draw some kind of nexus between the two is ridiculous, misplaced, and unscientific."

A study from 2014 by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found a 25 percent decrease in prescription drug overdoses in states with medical marijuana laws that allow chronic pain patients to participate. 

Medical marijuana is legal in New Jersey, and a medical panel advising the state Health Department is considering whether chronic pain should be an illness that qualifies people for medical marijuana.

Later, Sweeney told NJ Advance Media: "I think the governor's wrong."

The Senate president said while he supports Christie's crusade against opioid abuse, he recently visited Colorado, where pot is legal, and was impressed. 

"The industry is so regulated there," Sweeney said. "It is harder to find it on the corner."

And Julie Roginsky, a strategist for Murphy's campaign, said: "It is no surprise that we fundamentally disagree with Gov. Christie on this, as we do on so much else."

Christie also dismissed how proponents say legal pot will bring $300 million in tax revenue to New Jersey.  

"This is the part liberals love," he said. "We can tax it! Sweet Jesus, we can tax it! More money for us!"

But, he argued, $300 million is less than 1 percent of the state's $35.5 billion budget. 

"$300 million is a rounding error," Christie said. 

And the governor warned about marijuana shops opening in suburban parts of the state -- like Bernardsville in Somerset County. 

"Right next to the little inn there -- put a pot shop there," he said. "It's coming."

"I am the only thing that has stood between legalized pot in this state and you for seven years," Christie concluded.

Recreational marijuana is against federal law, but former President Barack Obama's administration chose not to enforce it in states that legalized pot. Though it's unclear how Trump's administration will handle those states, proponents are worried because U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said he's against it. 

During his speech, Christie also called for people to fight for help against drug abuse the way they fought for help amid the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. 

"Where's the march for the kids who are dying every day?" he asked. "We believe as a society that these people are getting what they deserve."

Christie said government should better education the medial community by creating a required curriculum for physicians and medical providers about the dangers of these drugs; to find alternative pain medications; and to educate students in public schools about this by using programs on their smart phones. 

Christie said he plans to travel with the new federal opioid commission to California's Silicon Valley to speak with tech companies like Google, Snapchat, and Twitter about how to wage the battle on social media.

"What will you contribute in terms of communicating to our children in which they'll actually see it and actually listen to it?" the governor said he will ask them. "The days of (Department of Education) pamphlets are over. I'm going to tell the president: Don't waste your money. Let's give the information in that pamphlet to Mark Zuckerberg."

Brent Johnson may be reached at bjohnson@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @johnsb01. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.