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.
“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.”
In one notable break from Ron Paul’s foreign policy, Johnson offers rhetorical support for Israel. “I think that we really do have a vested interest in Israel and that we shouldn’t walk away from that interest,” he says. Johnson also puts distance between himself and the 9/11 Truthers, who found a friendly home in the Ron Paul campaign. “Based on what I know,” Johnson says, “no, I don’t think the 9/11 report should be reopened, based on my knowledge.”
While Johnson’s executive experience, along with his inclination to spurn the fringe elements that were attracted to the 2008 Paul campaign, could help him emerge as a more appealing candidate than Paul, his positions on social issues—which are more in line with Rudy Giuliani—could also limit his popularity in the Republican primaries.
In principle, Johnson thinks abortion should be legal in most cases. “I support a woman’s right to choose [abortion] up until viability of the fetus,” he says. Why does viability endow human beings with the right to life? “I don’t personally have a sense that life starts at conception,” Johnson answers intuitively. “I don’t personally have that sense.”
But as a matter of law, Johnson thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned. “It should be a states issue to begin with,” he says. “The criteria for a Supreme Court justice would be that those justices rule on the original intent of the constitution. Given that, it’s my understanding that that justice would overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Does Johnson think there’s a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? “I don’t see it,” he says, “but I do support gay unions. I think the government should be out of the marriage business and leave marriage to the churches.”
Should Johnson run for president—and he’s giving every indication that he will run without saying so due to the tax status of his Our America Initiative—it will be interesting to see if Ron Paul supporters will tolerate Johnson’s more socially liberal views. But at the very least he shouldn’t have too much trouble reaching out to Randians.
“The woman that I’m with, and I’m gonna be married to and I’m in love with now—we’ve been together for a couple of years—she asked me was there anything that she could read to understand what it is or how I thought, and I recommended to her Atlas Shrugged,” says Johnson. “I think I view the system the same way that Ayn Rand views the system—that it really oppresses those that create, if you will, and tries to take away from those that produce and give to the non-producers.” But, as with most of his views, Johnson’s devotion to Rand isn’t totally rigid.
“I would like to see the government help out those truly in need,” he says. “She [Ayn Rand] wasn’t that way.”