In an interview with Robert Naiman reported in the Huffington Post, Presidential candidate Gary Johnson was asked about the drug war.
RN: I wanted to ask you about your opinion the “war on drugs.” This is kind of a signature issue for you, I wanted you to talk about the cost, your perception of the failure, and particularly the implications of the “war on drugs” for people in other countries, particularly in Mexico and Latin America, Mexico where thousands of people have been killed in the war on drugs there, Central America where there is now apparently a big expansion of the criminal drug trade. So tell me about your thoughts on the war on drugs, and what you think the U.S. should be doing instead, particularly as that relates to the impact of the war on drugs on other countries.
Gary Johnson: As Governor of New Mexico, what my pledge was, and what I did, and I’m really proud of this, and I said I was going to do this, that everything was going to be a cost-benefit analysis. Everything. What are we spending our money on, and what are we getting for the money that we’re spending. That there wouldn’t be any sacred cows, that politics was going to be the last consideration on the list, that first and foremost it was going to be about the issues, and understanding the issues. So when it comes to the war on drugs, I’m opposed to the war on drugs A through Z. But I came at it initially from the standpoint of – and, you know, there’s naivety, I guess, on a broad number of issues, and this is after I’m elected, one of them is, I guess I really didn’t understand that half of everything we spend on law enforcement, the courts, and the prisons is drug-related, and when you think about that, that is just staggering.
And when you think about what are we getting for half law enforcement, half the courts, and half the prisons? Well what we’re getting, is we’re arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country, which I point out is the population of New Mexico, that gets arrested every single year. And, we now have 2.3 million people behind bars. We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. And this is America? Liberty, freedom, the personal responsibility that goes along with that? I guess, except when it comes to your own body and what the decisions are surrounding that.
So going back to 1999, I came to the conclusion… that 90% of the drug problem is prohibition-related, not use-related. That’s not to discount the problems with use and abuse, but that ought to be the focus. So in 1999, I advocated then, I advocate it now. Legalize marijuana. Control it, regulate it, tax it. It’s never going to be legal to smoke pot, become impaired, get behind the wheel of a car, do harm to others. It’s never going to be legal for kids to smoke pot or buy pot. And under which scenario is it going to be easier for kids to smoke pot or buy pot? The situation that exists today, where it’s virtually available anywhere, and the person that sells pot also sells harder drugs? Or a situation where to purchase it, you would have to produce an ID in a controlled environment, like alcohol, to be able to buy it. I think you can make the case that it would be harder to buy it, in that controlled environment.
When it comes to all the other drugs – [marijuana] is the only drug that I’m advocating legalizing – but when it comes to all the other drugs, I think what we ought to really be concentrating on are harm reduction strategies – the things that we really care about, which is reducing death, disease, crime, corruption – in a nutshell, it is looking at the drug problem first as a health issue, rather than a criminal justice issue.
So here we have the border violence with Mexico. 28,000 deaths south of the border over the last four years. I believe that if we legalize marijuana 75% of that border violence goes away, because that’s the estimate of the drug cartel’s activities that revolve around the drug trade. The drug trade – prohibition – these are disputes that are being played out with guns, rather than the courts. Control this stuff, regulate this stuff, take the money out of drugs, and so goes the violence.
This is the advantage of a Gary Johnson candidacy. Public discussions about the drug war.