Gov. Christie tries to sell his drug policy 

Gov. Chris Christie says his plan to send more nonviolent drug offenders to treatment rather than prison is rooted partly in successes he's seen with smaller-scale versions of the same program — including a former intern of his who he says went from being a teenage heroin addict to a successful lawyer.

Christie told the story Thursday at an unusually emotional and decidedly subdued edition of his nonstop statewide tour of town hall meetings. Several of the governor's biggest YouTube hits come when he debates — and sometimes shouts down — his critics at these appearances, bolstering his tough-guy image.

While he often shares family stories, including tender ones, it's rare that he seems so sensitive for so long.

His answers were so long in his appearance at Vineland that he had time to take only about a half-dozen questions, and two of them dealt with his views on drug treatment.

He said it would save money and turn around lives to expand the use of drug courts and make treatment mandatory for many people charged with low-level drug crimes.

His policy stance is no secret. He went to Camden last month to pitch the idea and then made it one of the main parts of his State of the State speech last week. But it hasn't gotten him nearly the same kind of attention as his headlining proposal: A plan to reduce income taxes for all taxpayers by 10 percent over three years.

At the packed U.S. Army National Guard Armory on Thursday, the tax cut — an idea that legislative Democrats oppose — took up most of his prepared remarks.

But questions centered on the drug policy, and he answered at length.

Christie told the story of a young man he met a dozen years ago. At the time, Christie was also serving on the board of a drug-treatment program in Morris County.

The man, he said, was addicted to heroin and had been caught stealing from his parents and breaking into another home to support his habit. A judge, Christie said, told him he could spend a year in a drug-treatment or a longer period in prison.

While in the program, Christie said, he earned a high-school diploma. After that, he went to Rutgers University, then law school. While he was there, Christie, who was then the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, got him an internship at his office.

"He is a practicing lawyer who makes a good amount of money," Christie said, "who is paying a good amount of taxes, who is contributing to society, who is doing volunteer work."

Christie said that if the man had been sent to jail as a teenager, he likely would not have had those opportunities.

A woman — also a recovering addict — who works in drug and alcohol treatment, asked Christie, who is famously tight with state spending for more funding for treatment. Christie said he was working on that, too.

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Follow Mulvihill at http://www.twitter.com/geoffmulvihill

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