New Mexico Governor Johnson on Drug Reform
Following is a speech by Governor Johnson given in 1999:
FTW article on same topic by Michael C. Ruppert, former LAPD narcotics officer
BEYOND PROHIBITION: THE CASE FOR DRUG LEGALIZATION
by New Mexico Governor Gary E. Johnson
I am not a typical politician. I started a business in 1974 as a
By 1994 my wife and I had 1,000 employees specializing in various
tasks--electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and pipefitting. It was really a
dream come true. I did some things then that I still do today. I told the
truth. I was on time. I did a little bit more for my customers than what
I promised them I would do. With that formula, you can build and expand a
I am also an athlete. I am doing the Ironman Triathlon in two and a half
weeks. It will be the third time that I compete in it. I am a competitive
triathlete. This has been my hobby now for about 20 years. Going to the
Ironman Triathlon is like a baseball player's opportunity to go to the
World Series. It's like a football player's chance to go to the Superbowl. It's
really exciting for me. I have a goal to climb Mount Everest after I
leave office. I think it would be really cool to stand on top of the planet. I
think that would be wonderful.
I often say to people that every person needs to determine what makes his
or her life work. In my particular case, I found that being as fit as I
possibly can be makes my life work. You need to find out what that
something is in your lives--whether it's canoeing, playing chess, knitting,
reading, or whatever it might be. But get more of what makes your life work and
then get rid of those things that get in the way of what you want to do. In my
life, I discovered that that was tobacco and alcohol. I don't drink. I
haven't had a drink in 12 years. I don't do drugs. I don't even do candy
bars. Those things are a handicap. They really are.
I've got a great family. My wife, Dee, and I have two children. Our
daughter is 20 and our son is 17. My wife and kids are extremely supportive. Life
is happy if you have a great supporting cast, and I do.
I got my degree in political science at the University of New Mexico.
I've always believed that life's highest calling is doing good by others. I've
always believed that politics can be a way of accomplishing that. So this
something that I've always wanted to do. Now right or wrong, I never got
involved in politics at an earlier level because I felt that if I did, I
would somehow be indebted. I wanted to be in a position where I wasn't
indebted to anyone. I wanted to get in office and do what I thought was
right. That was the formula that I followed. I introduced myself to the
Republican Party just two weeks before I announced my candidacy for
governor. The response that I got was "We like you, we like what you say,
but you need to understand, you'll never get elected. It's just not
Well, I spent a half-a-million dollars of my own money to pursue my goal
becoming the governor of New Mexico. Let me make one point very clear:
one person asked me to run for governor. Not one person. That was
that I wanted to do and I recognize that I have been given a wonderful
opportunity to make a difference. And I believe that I have made a
When I am asked about my greatest accomplishment as governor, I respond
saying that we have taken a balanced approach to everything that needs to
happen in New Mexico. We have held the line on taxes. We've actually
taxes, but not as much as I would like to have seen. We're building 500
miles of four-lane highway in the state of New Mexico--effectively
the four-lane highways in the state. We have reduced the number of state
employees by about 5 or 6 percent. What I tell New Mexicans is, if you
haven't noticed a difference in the services of state government, I want
suggest that we're more efficient because we're doing it with 1,300 fewer
state employees. And whenever you save money, that's money you can spend
other areas. There are plenty of areas in government that that money can
We did shift over to managed care from the Medicaid model, and that was
significant. We had very overcrowded prisons in New Mexico. We built a
couple of new prisons, and those prisons are run privately. I fought for
that. The cost was two-thirds what it was costing us to do it as a state.
Improving education has been a priority, but, regrettably, all I have
since I have taken office when it comes to education is put more and more
money into a system that by all measurement is just doing a little bit
from year to year. I'm afraid that that isn't just the experience of New
Mexico. That is the trend nationally. So I am now pressing for school
vouchers. School vouchers are something that I believe in. Bring
to public school systems, and it will make a positive difference.
I am a "cost-benefit" analysis person. What's the cost and what's the
benefit? A couple of things scream out as failing cost-benefit criteria.
is education. The other is the war on drugs. We are presently spending
billion a year on the war on drugs. I'm talking about police, courts, and
jails. For the amount of money that we're putting into the war on drugs,
I want to suggest that it is an absolute failure. The "outrageous"
that I have been raising is that under a legalized scenario, we could
actually hold drug use level or see it decline. I realize that is
But with respect to drug abuse, I don't think you can argue about that.
Under a legalized scenario, we would see the level of drug use remain the
same or decline. And the same would happen with respect to drug abuse.
Sometimes people say to me, "Governor, I am absolutely opposed to your
on drugs." I respond by asking them, "You're for drugs, you want to see
use drugs?" Let me make something clear. I'm not pro-drug. I'm against
drugs. Don't do drugs. Drugs are a real handicap. Don't do alcohol. Don't
tobacco. They are a real handicap.
There's another issue beyond cost-benefit criteria. Should you go to jail
for using drugs? And I'm not talking about doing drugs and committing a
crime or doing drugs and driving a car. Should you go to jail for simply
doing drugs? I say no. I say that you shouldn't. People ask me, "What do
tell kids?" Well, you tell them the truth, that's what you tell them. You
tell them that by legalizing drugs, we can control them, regulate them,
tax them. If we legalize drugs, we might have a healthier society. And
explain to them how that might take place. But you tell them that drugs
a bad choice. Don't do drugs. But if you do drugs, we're not going to
you in jail for that.
Under a legalized scenario, I say there is going to be a whole new set of
laws. Let me just mention a few of those new laws. Let's say you can't do
drugs if you're under 21 years of age. You can't sell drugs to kids. I
employers should be able to discriminate against drug users. Employers
should be able to conduct drug tests and they should not have to comply
the American with Disabilities Act. Do drugs and do crime? Make it like a
gun. Enhance the penalty for the crime in the same way we do today with
guns. Do drugs and drive? There should be a law similar to the law we
now for driving under the influence of alcohol.
I am proposing that we redirect the $50 billion that we're presently
spending (state and federal) on the old set of laws to enforce a new set
laws. I sense a new society out there when you're talking about enforcing
these new laws and enhancing the ability of law enforcement to focus on
other crimes that are being committed. Police can crack down on speeding
violations, burglaries, and other crimes that law enforcement does not
the opportunity to enforce.
Under a legalized scenario, there will be a new set of problems. And we
all point them out. We can talk all day about the new set of problems
will accompany legalization. But I suggest to you that the new problems
going to be about half the negative consequence of what we've got today.
legalization model will be a dynamic process that will be fine-tuned as
I recall when I was in high school in 1971. An Albuquerque police officer
came in, lit up some marijuana weeds and said, "If you smell this, run.
is marijuana and you need to know that if you do marijuana, we're going
catch you and we're going to put you in jail." I remember raising my hand
that time, asking, "What are you going to do, put 15 million people in
jail?" The police officer said, "I don't care about that. I just care
the fact that if you do it, we're going to catch you and we're going to
you in jail." I'm afraid that prophecy may be coming true. In 1997 there
were about 700,000 arrests for marijuana-related offenses.
Does anybody want to press a button that would retroactively punish the
million Americans who have done illegal drugs over the years? I might
out that I'm one of those individuals. In running for my first term in
office, I offered up the fact that I had smoked marijuana. And the media
very quick to say, "Oh, so you experimented with marijuana?" "No," I
"I smoked marijuana!" This is something that I did. I did it along with a
lot of other people. I look back on it now and I view drugs as a
stopped because it was a handicap. The same with drinking and tobacco.
did my friends and I belong in jail? I don't think that we should
to lock up Americans because of bad choices.
And what about the bad choices regarding alcohol and tobacco? I've heard
people say, "Governor, you're not comparing alcohol to drugs? You're not
comparing tobacco to drugs?" I say, "Hell no! Alcohol killed 150,000
last year. And I'm not talking about drinking and driving. I'm just
about the health effects. The health effects of tobacco killed 450,000
people last year." I don't mean to be flippant, but I don't know of
that ever died from a marijuana overdose. I'm sure there are a few that
smoked enough marijuana to probably die from it. I'm sure that that's the
case. I understand that 2,000 to 3,000 people died last year from cocaine
and heroine. Under a legalized scenario, theoretically speaking, those
deaths go away. Those don't become accidental deaths anymore. They become
suicides because we'd be talking about a legalized scenario where drugs
be controlled, where drugs will be taxed, where we would have education
go along with it. I want to be so bold as to say that marijuana is never
going to have the devastating effects on society that alcohol has had on
My own informal poll among doctors is that 75 to 80 percent of people
doctors examine have health-related problems due to alcohol and tobacco.
brother is a cardio thoracic surgeon, performing heart transplants. My
brother says that 80 percent of the problems that he sees are alcohol and
tobacco related. He says he sees about six people a year who have
heart valves because of intravenous drug use, but the infection isn't
the drugs themselves. It's the dirty needles that cause the health
Marijuana is said to be a gateway drug. We all know that, right? You're
times more likely to do cocaine if you do marijuana. I don't mean to be
flippant, but 100 percent of all substance abuse starts with milk. You've
heard it, but that bears repeating. My new mantra here is "Just Say
Just know that there are two sides to all these arguments. I think the
boil down to drugs being a bad choice. Drugs are a handicap. But should
someone go to jail for just doing drugs? That is the reality of what is
happening today. I believe the time has come for that to end.
I've been talking about legalization and not decriminalization.
means we educate, regulate, tax, and control the estimated $400 billion a
year drug industry. That's larger than the automobile industry.
Decriminalization is a muddy term. It turns its back to half the problems
that we're facing--which is to get the entire economy of drugs above the
line. So that's why I talk about legalization, meaning control, the
to tax, the ability to regulate, and the ability to educate.
We need to make drugs a controlled substance just like alcohol. Perhaps
ought to let the government regulate it; let the government grow it; let
government manufacture it, distribute it, market it; and if that doesn't
lead to decreased drug use, I don't know what would!
Kids today will tell you that legal prescription drugs are harder to come
than illegal drugs. Well, of course. To get legal drugs, you must walk
a pharmacy and show identification. It's the difference between a
substance and an illegal substance. A teenager today will tell you that a
bottle of beer is harder to come by than a marijuana joint. That's where
we've come to today. It's where we've come to with regard to controlling
alcohol, but it shows how out of control drugs have become.
A legalization scenario isn't going to be like the end of alcohol
prohibition. When Prohibition ended, there were advertisements on the
right away that said, "Hey! Drink and be merry. It's cool." I don't see
like tobacco, where for so long we saw advertisements that said, "Hey!
Smoking is good for your health." There are constitutional questions, but
envision advertising campaigns that discourage drug use. I don't see
advertising campaigns as being honest, and that's part of the problem.
The Partnership for a Drug Free America was bragging to me that it was
responsible for the "Here's your brain, and here's your brain on drugs"
Well, some kids believe that, perhaps three year olds, maybe even nine
olds or ten year olds. But at some point, kids have friends that smoke
marijuana for the first time. Like everybody else, I was also told that
you smoke marijuana, you're going to go crazy. You're going to do crime.
You're going to lose your mind. Then you smoked marijuana for the first
and none of those things happened. Actually, it was kind of nice. And
you realized that they weren't telling you the truth. That's why I
advertising that tells the truth, which says drugs are kind of nice and
that's the lure of drugs. But the reality is that if you continue to do
drugs, they are a real handicap. We need to have an honest educational
campaign about drugs.
Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey has made me his poster child for drug
legalization. He claims that drug use has been cut in half and that we
winning the drug war. Well, let's assume that we have cut it in half. I
don't buy that for a minute, but let's assume that it's true. Let's
that drug use has, in fact, dropped in half. Well, if it has, in the late
1970s we were spending a billion dollars federally on the drug war.
the feds are spending $19 billion a year on the drug war. In the late
we were arresting a few hundred thousand people. Today, we're arresting
million people. Does that mean as drug use declines (according to
it has declined by half) that we're going to be spending $36 billion
federally and that we're going to be arresting 3.2 million people
I mean, to follow that logic, when we're left with a few hundred users
nationwide, we're going to be spending the entire gross national product
drug law enforcement!
I think it would be interesting to see some push polling done on the
of drugs in this country. In other words, if the following is true, then
do you feel about "x." If the following is true, how do you feel about
But the questions that get asked today, I really feel like I understand
answers. People have been conditioned and believe that drugs are
The polls should ask, "Should you go to jail for just using drugs?"
overwhelmingly say no. But ask the question, "Should you go to jail for
pushing drugs," people say yes. People don't understand the profile of a
pusher. Most people don't understand, as we New Mexicans do, that the
are carrying the drugs in. I'm talking about Mexican citizens who are
couple of hundred dollars to bring drugs across the border, and they
even know who has given them the money. They just know that it's a king's
ransom and that there are more than enough Mexican citizens willing to do
that. The federal government is catching many of the mules, but the
are not making a difference in our war on drugs. We are catching some
kingpins. Let's not deny that. But those that are caught, those links out
the chain, don't make any difference in the overall war on drugs.
I want to tell you a little bit about the response that I've been getting
this, the response to what I've been saying. Politically, this is a zero.
This is absolutely a zero. Politically, for anybody holding office, for
anybody that aspires to hold office, for anybody who's held office, or
anybody who has a job associated with politics, this is verboten. I am in
the ground, and the dirt is being thrown on top of my coffin. But what I
want to tell you is that among the public, this is absolutely
I suggest to you that this is the biggest head-in-the-sand issue that
in this country today. In New Mexico, I am being approached rapid fire
people saying "right on" with your statements regarding the war on drugs.
And I want to suggest to you that it's a 97 to 3 difference among the
public. This has been unbelievable. To give you one example, two elderly
ladies came up to my table during dinner the other night, Gertrude and
Mabel. They said, "We're teachers and we just think your school voucher
sucks. But your position on the war on drugs . . . Right on! Right on!"
What I believe I have discovered, and it's been said before, is that the
on drugs is thousands of miles long, but it's only about a quarter-inch
deep. That's my belief. I do understand my value in all this. I
the work that has already been done by all of you. I've been given the
and I understand that. And I'm trying to make the most out of having be=
given the stage. I was on Good Morning, America earlier, and I'm the one
that was given the six minutes of
air-time. And I'm trying to make the most out of it. I'm trying to
communicate what I believe in. I believe in this issue. I believe that
are bad, but I believe that we need to stop arresting and locking up the
I'd like to end this talk with my "Seven Principles of Good Government."
This is something that I authored when I took office and you'll find that
these principles dictate everything that I do.
1. Become reality driven. Don't kid yourself or others. Find out what's
and base your decisions and actions on that.
2. Always be honest and tell the truth. It's extremely difficult to do
damage to anybody when you are willing to tell the truth--regardless of
3. Always do what's right and fair. Remember, the more you actually
accomplish, the louder your critics become. You've got to learn to ignore
your critics. You've got to continue to do what you think is right.
got to maintain your integrity.
4. Determine your goal, develop a plan to reach that goal, and then act.
5. Make sure everybody who ought to know what you're doing knows what
6. Don't hesitate to deliver bad news. There is always time to salvage
things. There is always time to fix things. Henry Kissinger said that
anything that can be revealed eventually should be revealed immediately.
7. Last, be willing to do whatever it takes to get your job done. If
got a job that you don't love enough to do what it takes to get your job
done, then quit and get one that you do love, and then make a difference.
Thank you very much.
Governor Johnson's support letter for 1995 Global Peace Walk
Governor Johnson's Proclamation of support for Global Peace Walk 2000
FTW article on same topic by Michael C. Ruppert, former LAPD narcotics officer
More info on Global Peace Walk 2000
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