By "Radical" Russ Belville
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, was in Florida making what some consider trial run campaign stops to gauge support for a longshot campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Johnson hopes to appeal to traditional conservatives with his record number of state vetoes on spending in New Mexico and desire to repeal the Obama health care plan. Supporters also point to the populist nature of the Tea Party supporters creating a political atmosphere more open to his libertarian-leaning views.
However, some of Johnson’s views may seem to conservative supporters more likely to come from Johnson’s potential opponents, like his call for cuts in defense spending and withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. No position of Johnson’s separates him from traditional Republican supporters more than his call to end the prohibition of marijuana for adults. According to Gallup’s latest poll, only 29% of self-identified Republicans support marijuana legalization.
The Miami Herald’s piece, “Presidential Hopeful: Legalize Marijuana” makes that one position of many that distinguish Gov. Johnson’s agenda the headline, followed with the sub-head “Republican Gary Johnson wants to legalize marijuana, slash spending and repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare law. Does he have a shot in Florida?” According to the Herald:
“The issue of marijuana legalization is obviously an attention-getter,” Johnson said. “And you can’t shy away from it. I have to defend it. I have to defend the position.”
Johnson’s reasons: Marijuana is less harmful than alcohol and the cost of locking up pot smokers exacts too much of a toll on civil liberties and on taxpayers.
“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke pot. But I’ve drank and I’ve smoked pot,” said Johnson, an accomplished tri-athlete who once scaled Mount Everest. “The big difference between the two is that marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol.”
Johnson said it shouldn’t be legal to sell marijuana to children, or to operate a car under the influence. He said he also opposes legalizing cocaine, heroine [sic] and crystal methamphetamine.
Johnson said that, in two years, a majority of Americans would likely support the legalization of marijuana, according to polling. But, he acknowledged, it isn’t easy to quickly explain his position on the drug war in a Republican primary.
“And it’s not, really, a 30-second sound-bite deal,” he said. “It’s maybe about a three-minute deal.”
But campaigns are driven by half-minute ads, and the average GOP primary voter isn’t likely to support decriminalizing pot. When told of Johnson’s position on legalizing marijuana, Republican Party of Florida Chairman John Thrasher, a state senator from St. Augustine, responded with a skeptical “Oh, boy.”