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Gov. Gary Johnson: I Smoked Marijuana from 2005 to 2008

The former New Mexico governor and likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate talks to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

10:25 AM, Dec 6, 2010 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and a likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate, hasn’t been shy about his support for marijuana legalization or his personal use of the drug during his younger days. “I never exhaled,” he joked in a recent interview with The New Republic. But in an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Johnson admitted publicly for the first time that he smoked marijuana more recently—from 2005 to 2008—for medicinal purposes, he says.

Gov. Gary Johnson: I Smoked Marijuana from 2005 to 2008

“It’s not anything I volunteer, but you’re the only person that actually asked about it,” says Johnson, who governed New Mexico from 1994 to 2002. “But for luck, I guess, I wasn’t arrested.” Although smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes was illegal in New Mexico until 2007, Johnson says he needed the drug following a 2005 paragliding accident in Hawaii. His sails got caught in a tree, he stalled—and fell about fifty feet straight down to the ground, he says. Johnson suffered multiple bone fractures, including a burst fracture to his T12 vertebrae. “In my human experience, it’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

“Rather than using painkillers, which I have used on occasion before, I did smoke pot, as a result of having broken my back, blowing out both of my knees, breaking ribs, really taking about three years to recover,” Johnson says. He explains that painkillers had once caused him to suffer nasty side effects and the pain of withdrawing from the pills was unbearable. So, Johnson says, in 2005 "someone" who cared for him gave him marijuana to deal with the pain.

For a typical presidential candidate, admitting to illegally smoking marijuana just a few years ago would be badly damaging. But Gary Johnson isn’t a typical candidate. He’s a libertarian prophet crying out for the Republican Party to “get back to the religion of the pocketbook,” and spreading his message takes precedence over appealing to Republican primary voters. His personal marijuana story may even help him spread the word. And marijuana legalization may, in fact, be a much easier sell to Republican primary voters than Johnson’s positions on national security, foreign policy, and social policy.

Take, for example, Johnson’s support for big defense cuts. After pointing out that the United States accounts for half of worldwide spending on defense, Johnson suggests the defense budget might need to be slashed by as much as 44 to 90 percent from current levels. “If you just based it on population alone, we should be spending 5 [percent],” he says. “If you looked at a 23 percent reduction in government spending, which would just balance revenues with expenditures, if you look at what defense would then have to go to, 50 cents of worldwide spending would go to—I’m doing the math here in my head—what? 28 cents?”

Is Johnson saying that the United States defense budget should be cut in half?

“I don’t want to make that kind of statement because I somehow think it would make me appear irresponsible,” Johnson says. “And I don’t want to be irresponsible regarding this. I just have this sense that we’re just spending way too much.”

A dove in the mold of 2008 Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, Johnson says, “I don't think that we should be in Iraq or Afghanistan.” But the extent of his non-interventionism isn’t quite clear. On one hand, he isn’t even sure if U.S. troops should have been stationed in Europe to confront the Soviets following World War II. “I don't think I have the expertise to be able to say that it was good or bad, it just seems to me that today, it doesn’t really seem warranted,” he says. Johnson also says Iran’s nuclear program isn’t a threat to the United States because the principle of “mutually assured destruction” would keep the Iranians from attacking.

On the other hand, Johnson is open, in principle, to waging humanitarian wars. “If there’s a clear genocide somewhere, don’t we really want to positively impact that kind of a situation?” he says. “Isn’t that what we’re all about? Isn’t that what we’ve always been about? But just this notion of nation building—I think the current policy is making us more enemies than more friends.”

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