|WOL: Governor, please
tell us if this is an accurate summary of your positions. You support
the legalization of marijuana. As you've said, we should control
it, tax it, regulate it. At one time -- about a year ago -- you made
statements indicating you supported the legalization of drugs such as heroin
as well, but now you advocate "harm reduction" measures for drugs such
as heroin. Most of all, you want to open the discussion. And,
you have made it clear that you are not endorsing drug use, that drugs
are a "bad choice." Is that a fair summary?
Gov. Johnson: In general,
yes. I said we should be legalizing heroin. Heroin is the only
drug where a model for controlled use existed, and I was actually referring
to the Swiss model. I said we should be looking at a harm reduction
strategy and moving from a criminal to a medical model. Indeed, let's
not forget that alcohol was once prohibited, and I'm not endorsing alcohol.
Quit drinking now! It's an incredible handicap.
WOL: What has caused
you to reconsider your position on legalizing heroin?
Gov. Johnson: I haven't
really changed it, just sharpened it. I believe in heroin maintenance
and other harm reduction measures. But when you talk about legalizing
heroin, it takes the focus away from the issues. People freak out,
their brain banks power off. To talk in terms of legalizing heroin
is not useful.
WOL: You've been up
and down in the popularity polls because of your positions on drug policy,
but now your numbers have started to come around again. Does your
experience lead you to believe that talking about legalization or even
talking about talking about decriminalization is still a lethal "third
rail" for an American politician?
Gov. Johnson: I am
the example, I don't know anyone else talking about this, and I went into
this with my eyes open. As for popularity polls, well, those politicians
that have high approval ratings, are they necessarily doing anything or
do they have the ratings because they're not taking stands? As for
the initial dip in my numbers, I saw that coming. Does that detract
from my believing this is an issue that should be talked about? No.
It needs to be talked about, pot needs to be legalized, and we need to
reduce the harm.
I've made it a point to talk
to everyone I can in New Mexico, everywhere I can. Interest has been
tremendous, there have been too many requests for me to be able to honor
them all, and the reaction has been exciting. After a meeting in
Farmington, a judge comes up to me and tells me "that's the best argument
I've ever heard." And I know this guy; he wouldn't say it if he didn't
mean it. Another time, a lady comes up to me and confesses that she
and her friends were aghast and embarrassed at my stand and having to defend
me. She told me I had no defense, and she said that when she and
her friends came to see me, they almost walked out when I started talking
about drugs because they were so uneasy with the subject. But after
the talk, she told me I had them all thinking about the issue like they
never dreamed they would. Not that they necessarily agree with me,
but now they are saying it is something that should be talked about.
I went to a conservative
town, Roswell, and got a standing ovation after my speech on drug legalization.
I know they didn't necessarily agree with me, but there is respect now,
people are willing to hear about the issue. Unlike anyplace in the
country, people in New Mexico have talked about it. Over the past
year, a lot of people have come to understand the issue. Now they're
going starting to say, "Wait a minute..." In another two years, it
will become possible to see real progress.
WOL: You have said
that drug policy reform is fundamentally a federal issue. But is
there no room for states to act, for example, to modify their criminal
codes or sentencing structures or shift the emphasis from law enforcement
to treatment and prevention, to lessen the harms of the war on drugs?
Is there nothing you can do in New Mexico?
Gov. Johnson: I've
come to recognize that there are a lot of things that can be done at the
state level. Here in New Mexico, I set up a drug advisory council
with judges, medical people, law enforcement people, and treatment people.
They will make their recommendations in December. I've purposefully
stayed away from the panel, but I believe there will be a number of specific
recommendations that we can address through the legislative process.
I intend to make a real difference
on these issues. I'm talking about sentencing reforms, mandatory
minimums, treatment over incarceration, medical marijuana, and the legalization
of marijuana -- if we can pass the legislation. But I think the advisory
council's recommendations may even go beyond that.
I've also sent the panel
up to the Western Governors' Association conference in Nebraska.
I told them not to be wallflowers. They weren't. There is interest
among the governors.
WOL: You've endorsed
Gov. Bush for the presidency this year. Can you comment on his and
Al Gore's general lack of interest in changing or discussing drug policy?
And, given that you have said you will seek no further elective office,
why not take a stand on principle on the drug issue and endorse either
Ralph Nader or the Libertarians' Harry Browne, both of whom make drug policy
reform major parts of their campaign?
Gov. Johnson: Believing
that either Bush or Gore will win, I have to ask myself where do I have
the most impact on this issue? I can have more of an impact working
with Gov. Bush; after all, outside of drug policy we are pretty much in
line. Do I not advance the issue further given that I would get a
sympathetic ear at a Bush White House?
As for the campaigns, well,
they don't want to talk about it.
WOL: What is the most
striking or shocking thing you've learned as a result of your foray into
Gov. Johnson: Some
of the people I have come up against in this, well, if they were king,
I would have been strung up or shot or hanged. This virulent reaction
has been the most shocking thing. I now have a sense of what the
Salem witch hunts were about. And I'm the witch.
WOL: Once you leave
office, what will you be doing and do you plan to continue your efforts
to put drug policy reform on the political agenda?
Gov. Johnson: I will
continue to work on the issue, although at this point I'm not sure just
how. My horizon right now is the end of my term two years down the
The first thing I'm going
to do, though, is climb Mt. Everest.
Gov. Johnson: Oh, yes.
Before I was governor, I started and owned a construction company.
I sold it a year ago, so I'm in the enviable position of not having to
work. We have to ask ourselves what are our goals in life, and I
say it is to be happy. For happiness, the bottom line is freedom.
That's what it is about for me: life, liberty, the pursuit of freedom.
I've charted my own course, I'll be a free individual.
-- END --
Issue #155, 10/13/00
Interview with Governor Gary Johnson | US Demands Bolivian Government Be Inflexible in Coca Negotiations | November Coalition Comes to Washington to Accept Human Rights Award | Follow That Story -- "There Are Other Tulias in Texas" -- WOL Speaks with the Amarillo NAACP | Silence of the Wolves: Drug Policy in the Bush and Gore Campaigns | New Study Shows California Leads Nation in Drug Offender Imprisonment | Department of Transportation Calls for Drug Testing Lab Investigation | Media Scan: Salon.com, PBS Frontline | The Reformer's Calendar
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