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  Drug Stand Not New To Governor!
Posted by FoM on August 29, 1999 at 07:05:52 PT
By Loie Fecteau, Journal Capitol Bureau 
Source: ABQ Journal 

justice SANTA FE -- Gov. Gary Johnson says he has questioned jailing people for drug use since he was a senior at Albuquerque's Sandia High School almost 30 years ago.

The 46-year-old Republican remembers a police officer coming to his school to talk to students about drugs.

The officer lit a marijuana cigarette, Johnson said, and told the class: "This is what pot smells like. Smoke it, and we're going to put you in jail."

Johnson, who has been in the national spotlight recently for challenging national drug law policies, said he raised his hand and questioned the officer: "Sir, are you going to put 25 million regular pot-smoking Americans in jail? It's not going to work."

"I'll never forget that day," Johnson said in an interview in his Capitol office last week. "That was in 1971."

Now, in 1999, Johnson's call for a re-examination of the nation's drug policies has caught some New Mexicans by surprise and stirred criticism within his own party.

But the governor and those who surround him -- Cabinet aides, political consultants and his wife -- say the drug-policy positions he has espoused publicly in New Mexico since late June, and on national television shows over the past two weeks, aren't spontaneous thoughts. Instead, they say, they are part of a long-held conviction that fits his political philosophy.

Johnson has emphasized that he is not advocating drug use, which he calls "a bad choice." But he insists that the nation's war on drugs has failed and that policy-makers need to consider alternatives, including possibly legalizing or decriminalizing drugs, which would mean eliminating or reducing penalties.

"Personally, I have a fundamental problem with putting people in jail for drug use," Johnson said.

He said he has no plans to push for changes in state policy on drugs. And he said his two top priorities in New Mexico continue to be striving for a state income tax cut and taxpayer-financed school vouchers.

"The drug discussion really is national," Johnson said.
Some national experts have challenged Johnson's contention that the war on drugs has failed, saying the number of Americans currently using illegal drugs has declined by 50 percent since 1979.

The National Household Survey on Drug Abuse released earlier this month found that about 13.6 million Americans were drug users -- about half as many as during a peak in 1979. All told, 78 million Americans have tried illegal drugs at some point in their lives, the survey found.

"But we're spending more and we're locking more people up," Johnson countered in the interview last week. "If we've reduced usage by 50 percent shouldn't that also equate to cost. Shouldn't we be spending 50 percent less?"

A business approach

Johnson admitted shortly after he received the Republican nomination for governor, in the summer of 1994, that he used marijuana and cocaine while he was a University of New Mexico student in the early 1970s. He first tried marijuana as a high-school senior, he acknowledged last week.

These days, he is a serious athlete: He's competed in the Ironman triathalon in Hawaii and plans to climb Mount Everest after he leaves office. He says he hasn't used drugs since just after college, nor had a sip of alcohol in the past 12 years.

He has two children, a daughter in college and a son in high school, and is a former owner of a successful construction business. He campaigned for office as a "non-politician," and says he has no plans to seek political office beyond his second term as governor, which runs through 2002.

Johnson said in the interview that he was elected governor because he pledged to take a common sense, businesslike approach to state government. And he said his call for discussion of America's drug policies is consistent with that pledge.

"What I've done since I've been in office is I have just done a cost-benefit analysis of everything that's come across my desk, whether that's prisons, whether that's highways, whether that's the Medicaid system," he said.

"And right now, the glaring cost-benefit analysis that has incredible cost and no benefit is our war on drugs."

Political consultant Ron Nielson, who worked closely with Johnson on his two gubernatorial campaigns, says Johnson's drug policy talk matches the governor's political philosophy.

"He's talking about use of government resources, how best they should be used, and that's a business issue," said Nielson, who heads R.T. Nielson Co. of Salt Lake City.

"This is an issue Gary Johnson believes in and that's why he's talking about it," Nielson said.

Johnson was a first-time candidate and a political unknown when he first ran for governor in 1994. Consumed by building his business, he had not previously been active in the Republican Party. University of New Mexico political science professor Gilbert St. Clair observed that Johnson's most recent claim to fame reflects what some New Mexicans have suspected about his true political leanings.

St. Clair said the conservative-minded Johnson's views on drug policies are consistent with his overall philosophy of wanting to see less government and more personal responsibility.

"We all know he's really a Libertarian at heart," St. Clair said. "This is in keeping with a Libertarian view."

Bouncing ideas

Johnson said he has long wanted to push to change the nation's drug policies.

His wife, Dee Johnson, said it is a subject the governor has brought up "sitting around with friends over the years."

"He likes to bounce the idea off people, to take the temperature of people," Dee Johnson said. "And right now, he's in a perfect position to bring it up. Once he leaves office, he'll just be a voice in the crowd, but right now he's got that bully pulpit."

Johnson acknowledged that he didn't raise the drug policy issue during his 1994 and 1998 campaigns because, "I didn't have the guts."

"There's nothing that will take you down faster than discussing an issue like that," his wife noted. "It's such a taboo subject in the political arena."

Johnson said he has no qualms about bringing up the issue now because he does not intend to seek another political office.

"This is it for me," he said, referring to his political career.

Brian Sanderoff, president of Research and Polling Inc. in Albuquerque, said it could have cost Johnson votes to talk about changing the nation's drug laws during his gubernatorial campaigns.

"Gary Johnson's base tends to be more conservative," Sanderoff said. "Ironically, conservatives would be less supportive of his call for a public debate regarding decriminalization or legalization of drugs than liberal people would be, and it's liberals who most likely voted against him."

St. Clair said: "Hardcore Republicans and the religious conservatives would have been appalled."

Johnson said Kelly Ward, who managed his 1994 campaign and is now his senior policy analyst, and Doug Turner, who managed his re-election campaign last year, used to hold their breath when he talked with reporters.

"There was this fear, knowing that if asked the right question during the campaign that I was going to answer it," Johnson said.

At the same time, Johnson's admission early in the 1994 campaign that he had used drugs in years past turned out to be "a nonevent" politically, he said.

Johnson said he told the members of his Cabinet how he felt about the nation's drug policies in 1995, during his first year in office.

"It did catch everybody off guard," said Health Secretary Alex Valdez, recalling that 1995 Cabinet discussion. "He challenged us to think about it and our one common thread was no one is supportive of drug use. It (drug use) is one of the dumbest decisions a person can make."

David Harris, Johnson's secretary for Finance and Administration, remembers a lively discussion about drug policies by Johnson's top officials at that meeting.

"Darren and the law enforcement people were vocal in opposition," Harris said, referring to Public Safety Secretary Darren White. "The folks on the social services side were far more sympathetic."

Johnson said he had not intended to go public with his drug-policy thoughts this summer, but the story leaked out that he had talked about the issue at a lunch with state Republican Party chairman John Dendahl and former Republican state Sen. Mickey Barnett of Albuquerque.

However, Johnson said he had planned to discuss the issue publicly before attending think-tank conferences this fall, sponsored by the Libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, which advocates drug legalization.

"I just felt that if I go to that, then I've got to get this out on the table before that," Johnson said.

Johnson is scheduled to speak at a conference on the nation's drug policies Oct. 5 in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Cato. He also plans to attend a Cato seminar on Labor Day that will deal with the drug issue.

He is working with the New Mexico League of Women Voters to hold a conference on the issue sometime this fall at the University of New Mexico.


Johnson acknowledged that some of his recent statements, including his belief that people shouldn't be jailed for using drugs, appear to contradict his otherwise hardline stance on crime.

During his 1998 re-election campaign, Johnson aired a tough-sounding television commercial in which he said if you commit a crime in New Mexico, you're going to serve "every lousy second" of your prison sentence.

"When I made that commercial, I'm thinking about the guy who's got his gun out," Johnson said. "I was never thinking about the guy who did heroin and that's all he did. I wasn't thinking about Robert Downey Jr.," Johnson said, referring to the actor recently sent to prison on drug charges.

Johnson suggested the nation would be better served by redirecting money spent on drug interdiction to treatment and prevention programs.

Yet he conceded he has not pushed for more treatment programs for drug addicts in New Mexico. And he reluctantly signed a bill during this year's special legislative session for a $500,000 program to treat heroin addicts in northern New Mexico that he had previously vetoed.

"You're going to continue to see that," Johnson said.

"You're going to be reporting about ironies. ... Next legislative session you (the media) are going to report on he's calling for treatment, but he's been given a slew of treatment bills and he vetoed them all."

Johnson said he would veto bills that required additional state spending for new drug-treatment programs because it could result in tax increases. But he said he would support redirecting some existing resources to treatment programs.

"But the reality is it's going to be new resources and then, gee, where do you get the new resources, we need to raise taxes, and I'm not going to support that," Johnson said.

Despite his belief that people should not be sent to jail for using drugs, Johnson said he does not intend to issue any blanket pardons for those serving time in New Mexico jails on drug charges.

"I'm going to enforce the laws that we have," Johnson said. "But I think the law needs to be changed and I'm going to work within the system to change the law."

Republican novelty

One of the reasons Johnson has gotten so much national attention recently is the novelty of a Republican governor calling for a re-examination of drug policies, St. Clair said.

"If a Democratic governor had called for it, it would have gotten little or no attention," St. Clair said.

National attention on Johnson was heightened because of the media focus on possible past drug use by Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush, St. Clair said. And it probably had something to do with the late-summer recess of Congress, he said.

"We're a little short on hard news at the moment," St. Clair said.

St. Clair said Johnson, as a lone-wolf Republican governor, faces an uphill battle in trying to change national drug laws and policies, despite all his recent publicity.

"The Republicans, generally, do not want to re-examine it and I don't see Democrats pushing to re-evaluate Clinton administration policy," St. Clair said. "As far as calling for a serious public debate, I don't see it going anywhere except on college campuses.

"As soon as national politics comes back into play with the return of Congress and the presidential race heats up, the issue and Johnson's visibility will fade," St. Clair predicted.

Pubdate: August 29, 1999
Copyright © 1997, 1998, 1999 Albuquerque Journal

NM Governor Says He'll Keep Up Drug Debate - 8/27/99

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Comment #1 posted by FoM on August 29, 1999 at 18:12:10 PT:

Letter To The Editor : Time for Drug Policy Change

Letter to Editor
Date: 1999/08/29
Author:Abe Currin

Time for Drug Policy Change

It is time for our nation to make a change in our drug policies. The discussion of the legalization of drugs is a great place to start. I applaud the courage of New Mexico governor Gary Johnson for trying to spark the debate on these policies.

We are now spending over 50 billion dollars a year on the War on Drugs. With all this money we have made little or no impact on the reduction of drug use in our country. As the spending has increased, so have marijuana arrests.

Over 695,000 people were arrested for marijuana possession in 1997, with over 80% of those for simple possession. Meantime, we have more people incarcerated in our country, than any other country in the world. Drug offenders are around 60% of all federal prisoners, while violent crime accounts for only 12.4%.

The biggest question to ask is what is the goal of this War? I believe it is to reduce the use of drugs in our country. It is obvious that this war is destroying peopleís lives and liberties without reducing the use.

We need to start redirecting our resources in a different manner. To start, we need to spend more money on the rehabilitation of drug addicts. Only one third of drug control dollar goes towards prevention and treatment. Anyone that wants help to get off drugs in this country should be given help with no charges.

Also, we should direct this money towards better drug education to our entire nation. Why does the media and politicians, feel they need to give people a false impression.

These are the people that give the perception marijuana is as bad as heroin (deaths per year; Tobacco: 340,000 to 450,000; Alcohol: 150,000; All illegal drugs: 3800 to 5200; Marijuana: not one death in recorded history). Why donít they ever report on the success of drug legalization in other countries?

Plain and simple, if thereís a demand for a product a market for that demand exists. There is no way to prevent demand. So, how do you cope with this demand?

It is time to step up and stop this sick war. If you think this is just a ploy to legalize drugs, you better study the issue a little closer. This is for the prosperity of our country and all its citizens.

Abe Currin
Milton-Freewater, OR

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