|Photo: Steve Elliott/Reality Catcher|
|Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson at Portland Hempstalk 2010 in September|
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson could bring the issue of marijuana legalization into the 2012 Republican presidential primary if he decides to run.
“The issue of marijuana legalization is already an attention-getter,” Johnson told Marc Caputo of the St. Petersburg Times after a visit to Florida last week to test the political waters. “And you can’t shy away from it. I have to defend it. I have to defend the position.”
According to Johnson, marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and arresting and locking up pot smokers costs too much, both in terms of civil liberties and for the taxpayers.
Johnson, an accomplished triathlete who once scaled Mount Everest, said marijuana would be considered less a gateway drug if it were sold beside “more dangerous drugs” like alcohol.
“I don’t drink,” Johnson said. “I don’t smoke pot. But I’ve drank and I’ve smoked pot. The big difference between the two is that marijuana is a lot safer than alcohol.”
A majority of Americans will support the legalization of marijuana in two more years according to polling, Johnson said. But he admitted it wouldn’t be easy to quickly explain his position on the Drug War in a Republican primary.
“And it’s not, really, a 30-second soundbite deal,” Johnson said. “It’s maybe about a three-minute deal.”
“Oh, boy,” Florida Republican Party chairman John Thrasher said skeptically when told of Johnson’s position on legalizing marijuana.
Johnson, a successful businessman and millionaire, served two terms as governor of New Mexico from 1995 to 2003 He hasn’t yet decided if he’ll run for the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination, but he’s definitely showing signs of considering it.
Early surveys show Johnson is only polling in the single digits so far. But supporters and detractors agree that he could benefit from the support of Tea Party conservatives and Ron Paul backers. Paul has spoken favorably of the former New Mexico governor.
“He was an extremely conservative governor,” said Max Coll, a Santa Fe, N.M., Democrat who was the state House budget chief during Johnson’s administration. “But he had a strong libertarian streak.”
“He was very dogmatic,” Coll added. “He wanted to do it his way or else.”
In addition to speaking with Republicans last week, Johnson also met with the University of Central Florida chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).