5 Questions For: Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson on marijuana policy

By Megan Carpentier
Wednesday, August 29, 2012 18:00 EDT
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A young woman participates in the 14th annual Global Marijuana March on May 5 in Toronto, Canada. Photo: arindambanerjee / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson (R-NM) is now the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee, which is well-known for its support for marijuana policy reform — and Johnson, like most politicians, admits to having smoked it himself. Raw Story asked him about the genesis of his positions, where he sees the country headed and what he thinks of his fellow political tokers’ opposition to legalization.

Read Johnson’s interview about how he got screwed by the GOP, his positions on civil liberties and women’s rights, and answers to question about tax policy and entitlement reform.

Raw Story: Obviously, you’ve been outspoken for your support for massive reform for marijuana policy in this country, something that President Obama hasn’t been willing to touch, something that the Democratic Party is rarely willing to touch, something that the Republican Party is absolutely not interested in touching. And yet polls shows medical marijuana support at 70 percent, legalization gets 50 percent. Why do you think there’s this disconnect between almost every elected leader and most Americans?

Johnson: I think you mischaracterized your question by calling them “political leaders.” These aren’t political leaders. These aren’t leaders that we’ve elected they’re people that want to hold political office. Lead! Lead!

Raw Story:
Marijuana policy is one of those things that seemingly never gets on top of the media’s radar, either, and yet so many people are interested in it.

Johnson: I completely agree. In 1999, I said, “Let’s legalize marijuana, let’s adopt harm reduction.” Would the world be better off tomorrow if drugs were legalized? Absolutely. Ninety percent of the drug problem is prohibition-related, not use-related. That’s not to discount the problems with use and abuse, but that ought to be the focus.

Raw Story: Where do you think we’re headed as a country on drug policy?

Johnson: I think we’re at a tipping point on marijuana. I think we’re going to legalize it. I think Colorado is going to lead the charge. I think they’re going to vote yes this fall. I think that’s going to be the first to 50 state dominos that fall. As you point out, 50 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. Why is the number so high? It’s because people are talking about it, and yet no politicians are talking about it. None. Zero. And there are a handful now that are, but… let’s see, why did I get elected? Why did I run for office? To be a leader?

Raw Story: What’s interesting on marijuana policy in particular is that the Obama Administration has started cracking down on states that have legalized even just medical marijuana…

Johnson: That’s the really disturbing thing about Obama is that he explicitly promised to not do that. He explicitly said, “I will not spend federal resources cracking down on medical marijuana facilities where the legislatures or the citizens voted to implement these programs.” And so this is a slap in the face to everybody that supported him.

When it came to Obama, he said a bunch of favorable things. But for me, he said talked about three things that were very favorable: wars, gay rights and drug policy. I thought, unquestionably, these three areas are going to be dramatically changed over the next four year. And none of them: we’ve doubled down in Afghanistan, he’s cracking down on medical marijuana facilities. It’s worse. And I’m not telling you anything you don’t recognize, but the marijuana crackdown is worse. And gay rights? Marriage equality? It’s just lip service. Leave it to the states? Effectively, 41 states have said that marriage is between a man and a woman, that’s effectively saying, “I’m not going to do anything regarding the issue.”

Raw Story: And yet, it would take more than all our fingers put together to even start to count all the politicians who’ve admitted to marijuana use.

Johnson: It’s a bit of hypocrisy, isn’t it? I have never been guilty of that. I’m one of the 100 million plus Americans — and I think that’s a number that’s understated dramatically — I’m one of 100 million Americans who have smoked marijuana, and I don’t offer an apology for it. It’s something I did, and a lot of other people have done.

I don’t smoke pot today, I don’t drink alcohol today, but I can speak to my own personal experience on both substances. In no category is marijuana more dangerous than alcohol. For me, marijuana was, like, a wonder drug, if you will. No side effects. No hangover. As an athlete, it was, “Wow, this is great.”

[A young woman participates in the 14th annual Global Marijuana March on May 5 in Toronto, Canada. Photo: arindambanerjee / Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.]

Megan Carpentier
Megan Carpentier is the executive editor of Raw Story. She previously served as an associate editor at Talking Points Memo; the editor of news and politics at Air America; an editor at Jezebel.com; and an associate editor at Wonkette. Her published works include pieces for the Washington Post, the Washington Independent, Ms Magazine, RH Reality Check, the Women's Media Center, On the Issues, the New York Press, Bitch and Women's eNews.
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