The marijuana candidate returns

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By Jay Miller

SANTA FE – Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson is in the national news again. He has launched a nationwide nonprofit campaign to advocate libertarian views on current issues.

The campaign includes a Web site, www.ouramericainitiative.com, containing written statements and film clips of Johnson explaining his positions on the economy, drugs, civil liberties, the environment, abortion, the Federal Reserve, taxes and defense.

On the controversial issue of drugs, Johnson said, “We advocate a ‘Don’t do drugs’ policy. Drugs can be harmful, addictive and destructive. The current war on drugs, however, has not been successful.

“We believe there needs to be a new direction in fighting these problems,” Johnson said. “One of the best solutions to help with the many problems caused by drugs is to legalize marijuana. We do not advocate the legalization of any other drugs and believe that harm reduction measures should be implemented.”

Johnson believes that marijuana should be regulated and taxed by the federal government just as tobacco is currently. It would lead to a lower price for the product and eliminate the criminal element from its distribution just as the repeal of prohibition did for alcohol.

Drug cartels may be powerful and ruthless but I’d love to see the pharmaceutical industry take them on. Drug lords wouldn’t stand a chance.

It was Johnson’s libertarian beliefs that confounded New Mexico lawmakers and public. Many have trouble wrapping their minds around advocacy of smaller government, fiscal responsibility along with personal freedoms for everyone whether you agree with them or not.

Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives believe in personal freedoms but for those freedoms with which they disagree, they want them prohibited by law.

It was Gov. Johnson’s views on drugs that brought him national recognition during his second term as governor.  He could have had the Libertarian Party nomination for president in 2000 but chose to remain governor of New Mexico where he could lead a drug reform effort that had a slight chance of succeeding.

Johnson continued to have his Libertarian Party supporters in 2004 and 2008 but didn’t want to waste his time on a losing effort. After all, Johnson never has lost a political race and wants to remain a winner.

There is still a possibility that his fight against the war on drugs eventually will succeed.  At this point, it still is not a subject of legitimate debate. But there are signs that is changing.

The focus on the war on drugs of the 1990s has been replaced by the war on terrorism since 9/11. The current economic crisis is causing lawmakers nationally to rethink how government money is spent. The drug-related violence in Mexico is beginning to cause a national anxiety that it will spill across the border.

A New York congressman, who opposes decriminalization of drugs for non-medical use, nevertheless has introduced legislation to create an independent commission, similar to the 9/11 Commission, to review whether U.S. anti-drug policies in Latin America are producing positive results.

The bill passed the House unanimously and is given a good chance of passing the Senate.

Three former Latin American presidents from Mexico, Brazil and Columbia have jointly pronounced the drug war a failure and have suggested decriminalizing marijuana since it is no more harmful than alcohol and tobacco.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has called for consideration of marijuana legislation. A bill has been introduced in the California legislature to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. And a petition drive has begun to qualify it for the California ballot next year.

These and other events indicate that our nation is headed for a debate that a few years ago would have been considered impossible.

And if we do have that debate, Gary Johnson will be right in the middle of it and may have positioned himself to be in the right place at the right time to further his political ambitions.

E-mail Jay Miller at insidethecapitol@hotmail.com