Q&A: Former N.M. Gov. Gary Johnson Argues for Legalizing Pot and Decriminalizing Heroin

By Terence P. Jeffrey | September 1, 2011 | 6:33pm EDT

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson announces that he is seeking the Republican presidential nomination for 2012 in Concord, N.H., on April 21, 2011. (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) - Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who is now seeking the Republican presidential nomination, said in an Online With Terry Jeffrey interview that he would like to legalize marijuana in the United States and decriminalize the use of heroin.

In other parts of the interview he also said he favors same-sex civil unions and legalized abortion up until the moment the unborn baby is viable outside the mother’s womb.

Johnson had the support of 2 percent of Republicans in a recent CNN poll that showed Texas Gov. Rick Perry leading the field with 27 percent, trailed by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at 14 percent, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at 10 percent, Rep. Michele Bachmann at 9 percent, and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani at 9 percent.

Here is the transcript of the part of Johnson’s interview with CNSNews.com in which he explains his positions on marijuana and heroin:

Former Gov. Gary Johnson (N.M.): Ten years ago, Portugal decriminalized all drug use and that was in lieu of them having a heroin epidemic. Over the last ten years, Portugal has documented a 50-percent decrease in heroin use as a result of having decriminalized heroin. It seems to fly in the face of what you would think would be logical.

CNSNews.com Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey: So you favor legalizing heroin for utilitarian purposes?

Johnson: No, I only favor legalizing marijuana. I espouse legalizing marijuana. Control it, regulate it, tax it. Half of what we spend on law enforcement--

Jeffrey: Would the government sell it?

Johnson: Would the government sell it?

Jeffrey: Who would sell it?

Johnson: No. I envision--

Jeffrey: McDonalds. Would McDonald’s sell it?

Johnson: Well, first of all, it would be 50 states. This would be left to the states as is the distribution of alcohol. So, I see it being very similar to the same distributions that alcohol is subject to.

Jeffrey: So, New Mexico could have a state store where people could go buy marijuana?

Johnson: Could. But I would not want the government involved in state-run liquor. I would not want the government involved in state-run marijuana stores.

Jeffrey: In your state. But you would leave it up to—if Virginia wanted to have state-run marijuana stores--

Johnson: Sure.

Jeffrey: --the state of Virginia could sell marijuana.

Johnson: Just as they do right now.

Jeffrey: Okay, now, heroin. What would you do about heroin?

Johnson: Well, when it comes to all the other drugs I think that what we should do is look at harm-reduction strategies, which are really real. Which in a nutshell look at the drug problem first as a health issue rather than as a criminal-justice issue. We have the most effective policies in the world in this country for killing heroin addicts. Do we really want to kill heroin addicts?

Jeffrey: So you believe it is not good for people to do heroin?

Johnson: Right. Exactly. It is not good to do heroin.

Jeffrey: You do not want people to do heroin?

Johnson: I don’t want people to do heroin.

Jeffrey: And you think the state has an interest in having policies that try to reduce the use of heroin in the United States of America?

Johnson: I think what we have is an interest to reduce death, disease, crime and corruption—all things that I would associate more with prohibition than the actual substances themselves.

Jeffrey: But, governor, if I understand you correctly, you are not taking a laissez faire attitude and saying: Anybody should be able to do heroin because that’s their own business. You’re not saying that. You think heroin—you think the consumption of heroin, is a bad thing?

Johnson: I do.

Jeffrey: It’s bad for the individual who does it?

Johnson: Right. But what kills, Terry, what kills when it comes to heroin is quality-quantity unknown. They have a heroin maintenance program in Zurich, Switzerland. The chief of police from Zurich, Switzerland, came to Albuquerque. This was in 2002. He said: When they came out with a heroin maintenance program in Zurich, I have been in law enforcement my entire life. I was opposed to it. Everybody in law enforcement was opposed to this because death, disease, crime, corruption, they were going to skyrocket because they were going to make heroin free. He said: I am in Albuquerque here today to tell you that Zurich is a much better place to live today as a result of these programs.

Jeffrey: But let me clarify your position, though. Are we starting with the premise that it is a bad thing and harmful for a person to do heroin? Or are you saying that it is only bad when a person does heroin immoderately and overdoses, takes too much, or takes bad heroin?

Johnson: You seem to be making that judgment. You seem to be making that judgment.

Jeffrey: I’m not--I think it’s a bad thing for people to do heroin. I thought I heard you say: It’s not good.

Johnson: I don’t think it’s good. But do you want to kill the heroin addict? If you want to kill the heroin addict give him a product that is quality-quantity unknown. You want to keep the heroin addict alive, and then statistically give him the chance to go off of heroin--because everybody that goes on heroin gets off of heroin if they live long enough to do that. But they do not live long enough because they take product that is quality-quantity unknown they die from overdose. Women are involved in prostitution. They steal. They use guns. They have disputes that are played out with guns rather than in courts.

Jeffrey: So, you believe that it is harmful to do heroin. It is harmful to the individual. It’s harmful to society, too? Is it harmful to society when people do heroin?

Johnson: If you are doing heroin in the confines of your own home, doing no harm to anyone arguably other than yourself, do you belong in prison for a health problem that you have?

Jeffrey: So--But you do concede it is harmful for individuals, they are harming themselves?

Johnson: Yes. Yes.

Jeffrey: Okay. Are they harming the community around them? Their family perhaps? Maybe their neighbors?

Johnson: Well, yes, and guess what: The harm emanates from prohibition, not from their actual use. It’s from prohibition.

Jeffrey: Well, that’s what I want to know. So, you don’t think the actual act of taking heroin—perhaps if you’re a heroin addict—the harm that does to you—it doesn’t really do harm to you if you do it in the right quantity with high quality heroin? It doesn’t do harm to you?

Johnson: Well, of course it does. But by harm to you, are you harming anyone else? No. No, you’re not.

Jeffrey: Not your spouse? Not your children? Not your parents? Not your neighbors? Not your classmates at school?

Johnson: Let’s take the comparison of the heroin addict who is given heroin under a heroin-maintenance program and the harm they do to their family as opposed to it’s illegal, you’re going to go to prison, so you have to rob and you have to steal, and you take money that would have gone for your kids shoes and you use it to buy heroin as opposed to not having to do that.

Jeffrey: I want to make sure I understand, because I am not sure I understand your position. Are you arguing that as long as an individual takes high quality heroin in the right dose in a well-monitored way that person is not harming himself? Or---

Johnson: That person is doing less harm to themselves. Less. Harm reduction. Harm reduction, Terry.

Jeffrey: So, you do think the consumption of heroin in and of itself is harmful to the person who consumes it. It is harmful to his family---

Johnson: As I do a lot of things, like too many Coca Colas.

Jeffrey: But what you want to say is let’s surrender any effort to try to diminish and eradicate heroin consumption in our society---

Johnson: Because we have done this now for 70 years and we now have 2.3 million people behind bars and we spend half of everything we spend on law enforcement, the courts and the prisons on drug-related crime. Wow. Let’s double down. Let’s double down. Let’s put 4.6 million people behind bars.

Jeffrey: Now, I know you are against redistribution of wealth. Now, the heroin, of course, would you grow it in the United States? Where would you---

Johnson: Look, I’m not advocating legalizing heroin. I’m advocating legalizing marijuana. When it comes to---

Jeffrey: Oh, you’re not? Well, wait a minute now: Someone can use heroin in the United States if you’re president or not?

Johnson: No.

Jeffrey: So, you would, you say--

Johnson: Look, there are harm-reduction strategies, Terry, that exist, that minimize you, as a heroin addict, from dying, being a heroin addict.

Jeffrey: So, if someone tries to bring heroin in from--If you could rewrite all the drug laws in the United States, and someone tries to bring heroin in from Mexico, what happens? Under your government, ideally?

Johnson: Well, under my government, ideally, we would have legalized marijuana. So, by legalizing marijuana, I think we just take giant strides toward rational drug policy and a recognition—

Jeffrey: But you are not answering my question.

Johnson: No, I’m not. I’m not. You’re asking me what my policies would be and I am telling you.

Jeffrey: No, I am not. I am asking you a very specific question: Massive amounts of heroin cross our border from Mexico every year. They are distributed in cities all across the United States. You’re president of the United States and you have a Congress that’s willing to follow your drug policy. What happens when someone tries to bring heroin across the Mexican border into the United States?

Johnson: Well, first of all this should be a state’s issue, not a federal-government issue. I think the federal government has botched this. So, I think there will be a lot less heroin crossing the border as a result of having legalized marijuana. That is my contention.

Jeffrey: Now, governor, I think you did recognize earlier that Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, the Commerce Clause, gives the federal government the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations. You do concede that, right?

Johnson: Yes, Terry.

Jeffrey: All right. So, when a drug trader takes heroin in Mexico and bring it into New Mexico is that trade with a foreign nation?

Johnson: I don’t think it’s trade, I think it’s illegal. I’m not sure--

Jeffrey: Well, why is it illegal? Isn’t it illegal because the United States government has the power, the authority to protect our borders—

Johnson: I suppose so.

Jeffrey: And to regulate interstate commerce. Okay. So, you are not suggesting—So, you don’t think the federal government should restrict the flow of heroin into the United States from Mexico. Yes or no?

Johnson: I think the reality will be less heroin coming over the border. That will be the reality.

Jeffrey: Are you going to restrict it?

Johnson: Well, we restrict it today and you point out that it is in every city, that there is an unlimited flow of heroin coming across the border. So, let’s double down, Terry. Let’s double down. Let’s put 100 million people behind bars in this country because that’s how many people have broken our drug laws.

Jeffrey: There are a lot of other bad things coming across our border, governor, along with that heroin. Heroin also, by the way--

Johnson: --And what else is coming across the border is bad?

Jeffrey: --Is coming out of Afghanistan. But I still don’t understand. It is a very simple question: If you were president of the United States and you had a Congress that was willing to enact the kind of drug legislation you want, would people be permitted or prohibited from bringing heroin into the United States from foreign countries?

Johnson: Prohibited. Prohibited.Yes.

Jeffrey: Right. So, you would prohibit the flow. Now, if you were governor of New Mexico again and you had a legislature that would do what you want it to do, would it be legal for some guy to sell heroin to another guy in Taos?

Johnson: No. I don’t think we know--

Jeffrey: It would be illegal.

Johnson: Yes. Yes.

Jeffrey: So, you favor the prohibition of bringing heroin into the United States and you favor prohibiting it being sold in your town.

Johnson: But what you are failing to recognize is the diminished marketplace that would exist if marijuana were legal.

Jeffrey: So, you are not in favor of legal heroin? But you think making---

Johnson: You think that making it illegal is going to make it go away? Have you been living in a box, my man.?

Jeffrey: You believe the facilitation of marijuana smoking in the United States by the government will diminish the amount of heroin consumed in the United States?

Johnson: Yes, I do.

Jeffrey: Why?

Johnson: Because right now, prohibition is all about--It is a prohibition phenomenon. It’s cheap. It’s easy to administer. It’s a more powerful high. I think that the gateway aspect--

Jeffrey: What’s a more powerful high?

Johnson: Heroin.

Jeffrey: So, you think that people who legally start smoking marijuana in Gary Johnson’s America will be less likely to move on and use heroin than people who start smoking marijuana in America today?

Johnson: I think the gateway aspect of marijuana is is that the person that sells marijuana also sells harder drugs. When you take away that link, I am going to suggest that there will be less heroin use--as there was in Portugal. Portugal has documented a 50-percent decrease in heroin use over the last ten years having decriminalized heroin.Terry, how do you explain that? Or are you just thinking that is a voodoo kind of a thing.

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