The GOP's Most Radical Candidate Visits The Fix

By Will Godfrey 11/17/11

Former Governor Gary Johnson knows his views on legalizing drugs are out of step with 99% of American politicians. He stops by and tells us why that's a good thing.

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Gary Johnson has plenty to say about drugs, but lacks airtime. Photo via

Gary Johnson, the Republican presidential candidate and former two-term Governor of New Mexico, actually enjoys being known as "The Marijuana Guy" in this campaign. Fiscally conservative and socially liberal, he positions himself as the only candidate in the field with something new to say about drug policy. For starters, he'd legalize pot, and he sees the decriminalization of other drugs—like heroin and cocaine—as a "rational" next step.

A personable politician, he paid a visit to the New York offices of The Fix this week and spoke on camera with our co-founder, Joe Schrank. [Below]

Johnson's comparatively radical views may have something to do with why the major TV networks have excluded him from all but two of the early debates. This is despite his scoring up to 3% in polls—comparable to other "more acceptable" outsiders Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. Johnson is now even being left off the list in polls that determine which candidates are invited to future debates. Is he just a little bitter about getting the cold shoulder from the political establishment? Of course. But Johnson plans to stay in the race until the election, regardless of how "unfair" the treatment.

Long a staunch proponent of marijuana legalization, Johnson flirts with overt libertarianism: "Nowhere in the constitution does it say what we can or cannot put in our own bodies by our own choice." Including, he says, heroin and cocaine. "I suggest that if we legalize marijuana, this country will take giant steps to what I would call rational drug policy, which starts with looking at drugs first as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue."

Although he currently espouses the legalization of marijuana only—which he thinks will make the world "a better place," reaping financial rewards and lowering crime—he hints that the Portuguese model of decriminalizing all drugs and treating them primarily as a health issue should be our national model: "Why wouldn't it work in the United States?" He notes that heroin use has dropped by half in Portugal in the ten years since that country decriminalized all drugs. And his European comparisons don't end there; he stresses that the Netherlands, which has "effectively" decriminalized all drugs, has "about 60% the drug use of the United States; that's on a per capita basis."

Johnson on treating drug abuse primarily as a health issue:

Johnson has previously told The Fix that his plan to end the War on Drugs would enable him to make major cuts to the US military budget. "There's no better example of wasteful government spending," he says of the border war. "Every single candidate on that stage [the TV debates] is talking about ending the violence on the border with more guns—more guns!"

As for marijuana, he says that despite a recent Gallup poll showing that voters narrowly support legalization, "This is an issue that's way ahead of the politicians." He cites figures claiming the financial windfall from legalization would add up to $20 billion in savings and income at state and federal levels. And he would pardon all non-violent marijuana offenders currently serving time. Asked about the pro-prohibition views of former White House drug policy adviser Kevin Sabet, he issues a challenge: "I would love to be able to debate this individual anywhere, any time. I see no benefits whatsoever to prohibition, none." By way of comparison he adds, "In no category—no category—is marijuana more dangerous than alcohol."

Johnson's willingness to break step with the vast majority of US politicians on prohibition is brave, although a trailblazer is often doomed to forge a path that others later follow with more success. His views on marijuana aren't at odds with US voters. But the powerful TV networks and party establishment are proving slower to follow public opinion, which leaves him starved of publicity.

And that's a shame. Without the full participation of a dissenting voice like Johnson's, drug and addiction issues are set to receive little airtime in the 2012 presidential campaign. The Fix has asked several other candidates for an interview or statement on their drug policy and received no response—except from a spokeswoman from the Michele Bachmann campaign, who simply replied, "What drug policy?" Whatever your views on prohibition, this lack of political scrutiny of a vital policy area—directly affecting many millions of Americans and others around the world, and perceived by many to be failing—is anything but healthy.

On why he's not afraid of being "The Marijuana Guy":

 

Will Godfrey is Managing Editor of The Fix.

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Will Godfrey is the former editor-in-chief of TheFix. He was also the founding editor-in-chief of Substance.com, and previously co-founded a magazine for prisoners in London. His work has appeared in Salon, Pacific Standard, AlterNet and The Nation among others. He is currently the Executive Director at FILTER. You can find Will on Linkedin and Twitter.

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