Will GOP Gov's Drug Policy Kill His Presidential Bid? - Page 2

By ________________________ 06/12/11

Gary Johnson, the two-term governor of New Mexico, has a stellar economic record, high popularity ratings and a maverick stance on the drug war. So why has he been shunned by the press?

Are Gary Johnson's views on drugs and sex too controversial for CNN?

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And yet you remain the only candidate who is addressing these issues. Why don’t we hear more about the drug war?

In my view, in terms of individual liberties and fiscal responsibility, opposition to the drug war is perfectly consistent with true Republican Party values. Yet no other politicians are willing to touch this. I can’t think of any other area of public policy where there’s as big a disconnect between politicians and what the public actually thinks. It’s my understanding that before the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, you could not find a single politician to stand up and support repeal, and yet after repeal you couldn’t find a politician who didn’t support it.

What is your position regarding the legalization of marijuana?

I espouse the legalization of marijuana, believing that if we start by legalizing marijuana, we can take giant steps as a country toward what I would call rational drug policy, which, to put it simply, is looking at alcoholism and addiction as a health issue rather than a criminal justice issue.

Under a President Gary Johnson, what would America’s drug war look like?

The reality is that the regulation of drugs is going to become a states' issue, just as it is with alcohol. States are going to control the manufacturing, distribution, sale and taxation of marijuana, for example. But it’s my understanding that as president, I could deschedule marijuana immediately—and I would do that.

You would deschedule marijuana? It’s currently a schedule 1 narcotic, ahead of cocaine, which is schedule 2.

Marijuana is on par with heroin, and that defies what a hundred million Americans who use it or have used it know. I haven’t had a drink of alcohol in 25 years—it has to do with being the best that I can be. I don’t smoke pot, either, but I have smoked it. And I know the big difference between the two is that marijuana is a whole lot safer than alcohol. Alcohol abuse is a terrible disease, a national scourge, but I don’t begrudge anybody their freedom to drink as much as they want as long as they don’t put somebody else in harm’s way. I think that the same criteria ought to apply to marijuana.

The Republican Party is very fractured at the moment. How does someone like you, with progressive, rational positions on drugs, gain a voice among candidates like Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, who seem to be competing to be as far-right-wing as possible?

When I ran for governor of New Mexico, I didn’t get a single narrow-social-conservative vote in the primary. But when it moved on to the general election, I got all their votes and I also got a lot of Independents and Democrats. I hate labels, but I believe that 60 percent of Americans describe themselves as fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Now I would argue that if I had the opportunity to talk to somebody who said that they were socially liberal, what you might find is that they were actually classically liberal across the board. I’m a classic liberal. What that means is that government spends a whole lot of money and doesn’t really make a difference in any of our lives. And a lot of things government does have unintended consequences that are not so good. And I’m talking now about business and banking, about foreign intervention, about drug policy. I probably vetoed more bills than all the other governors in the country combined when I was governor of New Mexico.

You were "Governor Veto."

I was Governor Veto. New Mexico is a state that is two-to-one Democrat, so just saying no to this stuff, man, that doesn’t fly. You got to have reasons. And I talked about those reasons all the time. And I enjoyed the job or I wouldn’t be here either.

You wouldn’t be applying for the next level...

Right. So given the troubles we’re in—we’re bankrupt and unless we balance the federal budget, we’re going to have a financial collapse, and we’ll all be left with nothing, and that’s going to be unimaginably grim—how do you communicate that as an issue that gets you elected? I’m not so sure that that’s even possible, but that’s the endeavor I’m engaged in right now.

My last question may sound like a strange one: Would you support a draft for the drug war? If your 18-year-old could be sent to Nogales, Mexico, to fight and maybe die in the drug war, would Americans then start to care about it as an issue? Because there are more people killed in that border war than in Iraq.

I just think if we would examine our own lives, we would realize that all of us, everybody in society, interacts on a daily basis with people who do drugs, whether they’re family, friends, coworkers, neighbors. And are these people criminals? Of course not. Even if they have drug problems, they’re still anything but criminal in the sense of being a threat to society. That’s why I am out here running and advocating for a rational drug policy. Something finally has to be done.

Joe Schrank is Co-Founder and Editor-at-Large of The Fix. He is an interventionist and the Co-Founder and C.E.O. of The Core Company.

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