Gary Johnson on Drugs
Libertarian presidential nominee; former Republican NM Governor
The responses I got in the governor's office--calls, letters, faxes, emails, people talking to me on the street--to my position on marijuana were about 95% positive.
The reaction from elected officials, on the other hand, at least officially, was 100% negative. But I have been approached by some elected officials who've said, "Way to go. This needed to be said. Your position is right, but I can't say that in public." I'm willing to risk my political future to educate people and bridge the divide.
Bad personal decisions should not be criminal if they don't harm anyone else. It is and should always be illegal to drive while you're impaired or to commit crimes. But people will always use drugs. We can't change that. Our real focus should be on reducing death, disease, crime and corruption. These problems are all related to drug prohibition, not drug use. But what I've found is that most people base their position on this issue on emotion instead of facts. The truth is that marijuana is safer than alcohol. I'll be the first to tell you that the world would be a better place if no one drank or did drugs. But that will never be the case.
A: We should make it as easy as possible to be able to get a legal work visa--not citizenship, not a green card. And then legalize marijuana. 75% of the border violence with Mexico would go away--that's the estimate of the drug cartels' activities that are engaged in the trade of marijuana. We've had 28,000 deaths south of the border over the last four years. If we can't connect the dots between prohibition and violence, I don't know if we ever will.
Q: Is border violence the main reason you're for liberalizing drug laws?
A: I'm opposed to drug war A through Z. Half--half!--of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons, is drug-related. And to what end? We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. "America, land of liberty and freedom?" You know, that's baloney. More than 2 million Americans are behind bars now. Communist China has 4 times the population and they have 1.5 million people behind bars.
A: I don't smoke pot today. I don't drink alcohol. But I've done both of them and I can speak with authority over the fact that there's a big difference between marijuana and alcohol. And the difference is that marijuana is a lot safer.
A: Legalizing marijuana, talking about harm reduction strategies regarding all the other drugs, so talking about legalizing marijuana. I came at this issue from a cost-benefit analysis standpoint. I'm not telling you anything that you don't recognize. Half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts and prisons is drug-related and to what end? Well, $70 billion a year. We're arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country. We now have 2.3 million people behind bars. We have the highest incarceration rate of any person in the world, America.
Q: What do you do when people are in a crack-induced state of psychosis?
A: There's an educational process in all this. But you treat it first as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue. You don't treat it first as a criminal justice issue. Let's differentiate between marijuana though and harder drugs. What I'm advocating is the legalization of marijuana.
A: As governor of New Mexico, everything was a cost-benefit analysis. Using that as a criteria: half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons is drug-related. And to what end? We're arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country. We now have 2.3 million people behind bars. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. If people look at it, they'll see that 90% 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. I advocate legalizing marijuana: control it; regulate it; and tax it. It'll never be legal for kids to smoke pot or buy pot; It'll never be legal to do harm while smoking pot. When it comes to all other drugs, I advocate harm-reduction strategies, which is looking at the drug problem first as a health issue rather than as a criminal justice issue.
By managing marijuana like alcohol and tobacco--regulating, taxing and enforcing its lawful use--America will be better off. Alcohol Prohibition (1920-1933) had only a minimal effect on the desire of Americans to drink but pushing alcohol underground had other effects: overdose deaths, gang violence, and other prohibition-related harms increased dramatically during the Prohibition years.
Last month, the New Mexico legislature approved five drug bills proposed by Republican Gov. Gary Johnson, an ardent supporter of decriminalizing drugs. Included in the package are measures that will allocate $6 million to expand treatment services, legal protections for syringe sales, and restoring voting rights for felons who have served their time. “The war on drugs is a miserable failure,” Johnson said. “50% of the money for prisons and courts is spent on drugs. What we’re doing isn’t working.”
A: It is the biggest issue in the country, and it's not being addressed.
Q: It is supposedly being addressed by the long-fought war on drugs.
A: The war on drugs is a mindboggling failure.
Q: Some statistics suggest that drug use is down.
A: That's absolute baloney. I just don't buy it. In one survey people were asked if they did drugs. First, they were asked in the Seventies. I can imagine people responding, "Well, sure, doesn't everybody?" Today, they would likely say "No way" before hanging up. It's a different time. But if we have reduced drug use by half--some claim it has gone down from 26 million to 13 million users--where are the corresponding dollar savings? We have gone from spending federally $1.8 billion to spending $30-plus billion--plus the cost of incarceration--and haven't dented the problem. As we approach zero users, are we going to be at $400 billion? Come on.
A: Only addicts would be allowed to get drugs. They would have to get a prescription.
Q: But wouldn't there still be a large group of people who use heroin casually? Wouldn't there still be a black market?
A: Yes, you bet. But it is going to reduce the problem, which is a start. We have to look at the other users, too. We should start with the drug addicts and then explore the problem posed by the other users. For drug addicts, we should look at all the tools in the box. One of the ideas I proposed is that methadone should be available from drugstores, not just from clinics. One of the criticisms of methadone clinics is their clientele. Why don't we just allow people to go to drugstores and get their methadone with a prescription? Heroin maintenance is another idea I proposed. It's a harm-reduction strategy. Instead of pretending that drugs are going to go away, we should do everything we can to minimize the negative impact of drugs.
A: Of course I think it should be allowed.
Q: Yet your home state doesn't allow it.
A: It's not likely to happen. Now, in particular, there is a backlash against anything drug-related in the state. It's a backlash against me.
Q: Is your campaign actually hurting your cause?
A: Not for a second.
Q: But people might feel that something as innocuous as medical marijuana or a needle exchange program is just the beginning in their governor's agenda to legalize every drug.
A: Well, my goal is for a more rational drug policy. There's no question that I've moved the needle. I've moved the needle nationally. I've moved it in the direction it needs to go. It's a start, but there need to be 3000 other people espousing the same ideas. These other programs--needle exchange, medical marijuana--are important, but they don't address the great ills caused by prohibition.
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