News out of the D.C. Beltway is that Donald Trump is vetting Chris Christie as a possible running mate. The Washington Post reports that the New Jersey governor and Newt Gingrich are in the lead — with a caveat that Trump is, of course, unpredictable.
A Christie pick, reports Vox.com, would “seemingly make some sense for the billionaire.” But Christie also comes with some weaknesses.
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He is incredibly unpopular in his own state. Personality-wise and regionally, he adds nothing to the ticket, since, like Trump, he is a loud and obnoxious Northeasterner. Social conservatives don’t like him. And a Christie pick could undercut Trump’s attempts to attack Hillary Clinton for various scandals, since two of the governor’s former aides are scheduled to be on trial for their alleged involvement in Bridgegate at the height of the fall campaign.
That’s fair enough. But let’s take a more local approach: What would Christie on the ticket mean in swing state Colorado, particularly given his hardline stance against marijuana legalization two years after Colorado led the nation with legalized recreational marijuana markets?
Taylor West, deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association — which has offices in Washington, D.C. and Denver — says that if Trump chooses Christie, the move will offer a clear contrast for voters in Colorado.
“I think having Christie on the ticket would immediately make it clear that the Republican side of the ticket would be significantly worse for respecting Colorado voters than the Democratic side,” she says.
Among the Republicans who ran in the once-sprawling Republican primary for president this cycle, Christie, a former federal prosecutor, stood out for his hardcore stance against legalizing and decriminalizing pot possession.
“If you’re getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it,” he famously said last July. “As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws.”
In an interview with Christie on “Face The Nation” last June, host John Dickerson asked how Christie thought he could win Colorado by saying that.
“Listen,” Christie replied. “I think there are a lot of people in Colorado who aren’t thrilled about what’s going on there…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.”
Christie pointed out that when he campaigned in Colorado, he didn’t shy away from his anti-pot stance.
“It’s not like I’m going to pander or hide,” he said. “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.”
Trump himself has been harder to pin down on the issue, but certainly has not drawn the same bright lines around marijuana policy as Christie.
Last year, however, Trump said he did not approve of legalized recreational marijuana.
“I say it’s bad,” he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference that year. “Medical marijuana is another thing, but I think [recreational marijuana is] bad. And I feel strongly about that.”
But then he hedged on the states’ rights question.
“If they vote for it, they vote for it,” Trump said. “But they’ve got a lot of problems going on right now, in Colorado. Some big problems. But I think medical marijuana, 100 percent.”
The Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C. group that advocates for removing criminal penalties for marijuana use, has graded the presidential contenders throughout the race based on where they stand. Christie has an F. Trump has a C+, Hillary Clinton has a B+. Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein each have an A+.
For her part, Clinton told Denver 9News reporter Brandon Rittiman last October that the feds shouldn’t interfere with states that have legalized pot.
“I really believe it’s important that states like Colorado lead the way so we can learn what works and what doesn’t work,” she said. “I would certainly not want the federal government to interfere with the legal decision made by the people of Colorado.”
Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, says he actually doesn’t think a potential Christie veep pick would make that much difference in Colorado. He doesn’t think enough voters will presume a vice president will be directing federal policy.
“Joe Biden has been one of the worst people on marijuana and drug policy in history,” he says. “He was a hardcore drug warrior.”
Tvert added that no one really seemed to know or care, because Biden wasn’t the one making decisions on marijuana.
About Christie as a possible choice for Trump and what that might mean in Colorado, Tvert says, “To be honest I think that everyone would be relieved that he was not going to be the attorney general.”
For their part, voters in Colorado seem to be fine with the laws just as they are.
A year after Colorado decriminalized the possession of marijuana and legalized the sale of recreational pot, polling suggests not much had changed in the minds of voters. According to a December 2014 poll conducted by SurveyUSA for The Denver Post, more than 90 percent of those who voted for Amendment 64, which brought legalization to Colorado, would do it again.
About a year later, in November 2015, most voters (53 percent) said legalizing marijuana was a good thing for Colorado, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Just last month, survey data from Colorado’s public health department showed teen marijuana use has remained flat since legalization.
Regardless of who Trump chooses for VP, no presidential candidate will be able to campaign in Colorado without a good grilling on the marijuana question.
Says West: “It’s not like they are going to be able to avoid talking about the issue.”