Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson (R) knows what it's like to wade out to the fringes of an issue and wait for everyone else to catch up with him.
Back in 1999, he was onto flaking "harm reduction" policies before the whole political establishment, including President Barack Obama's own people, adopted the meme. Today, he's ahead of the curve again, this time on pinpointing a clear strategy for reducing violence along the U.S.-Mexico border.
"Right now, 75 percent of the cartels' activities revolve around marijuana," the Libertarian Party presidential candidate told Raw Story recently. "I think as a nation, when we legalize marijuana, we're going to take giant steps toward drug reform, which will start off with looking at drugs as a public health issue, rather then a criminal justice issue. I just think legalizing marijuana [will cause] at least a 75 percent reduction in border violence due to the drugs [trade]."
It has been a long time since Johnson gave drug reformers a bear hug while he was in office. To this day, he says no other currently serving public official in the U.S. with a higher rank has followed in his footsteps. Even so, Johnson believes he wasn't really that far away from the conclusion many are reaching today.
"What I wanted to lay on the table was, I'm going to sign off on legalization of marijuana, but I'm also going to sign off on any legislative initiaitives that are harm reduction strategies," he explained.
"Harm reduction" has since become one of the key buzzwords for drug reform advocates, and it's having the tangible effect of moderating the law and order rhetoric coming from Washington. These days, seemingly everyone in policy-making circles wants to appear less inclined to support policies that tend to be associated with victimization and violence.
Now that trend is moving toward methods of reducing border violence, and Johnson is again out in front.
"Since 1999, I've advocated legalizing marijuana," he said. "I have always shied away from decriminalizing, because I think that turns its back on half the problem, which is the marketplace for marijuana. You've got to make it legal to sell it, otherwise if you just make it legal to possess it and use it, you just shift law enforcement resources to arresting those who sell it, and that's not going to be the answer."
But in order to get there, Johnson said Americans must learn the facts about marijuana and the drug war -- meaning advocates must continue to turn up the volume on their message.
'What's the reason for 50 percent of Americans supporting legalizing marijuana?" he asked. "The reason is, people are talking about the issue. The more people talk about it, the better this issue does. It's an issue of information, debate and discussion. But if you're not debating and discussing it, it's not going to happen."
Photo: Flickr user ronpaulrevolt2008.