Gary Johnson explains why he won’t smoke weed as president — and why he gave it up on the trail
Johnson, the former CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc., which sells medical-cannabis products, said he stopped smoking marijuana once he began campaigning.
If elected, he said he’d put the habit on hold because he believes that he’d have to “be the best that you can be” when serving as commander in chief.
The former two-term governor of New Mexico, who made a bid for the presidency as the Libertarian candidate in 2012, is polling at 8.5% against Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Republican and Democratic nominees, in the RealClearPolitics average of several polls. In a recent Fox News poll, Johnson garnered as high as 12% of the vote in a three-way race.
If Johnson can break 15% in enough polls ahead of the fall, he can make his way onto the stage in the general-election debates.
He wants to be on his A-game in the Oval Office.
How Gary Johnson’s Marijuana Position Could Affect His Presidential Bid
Can Gary Johnson break through?
Will Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson’s bid for the White House go up in smoke?
Conditions are ripe for the rise of a candidate like the former New Mexico governor, who is attempting to appeal to disaffected voters by highlighting his record as a socially liberal yet fiscally conservative two-term Republican in a reliably blue state.
Both major party candidates have historically high negative ratings, and the Libertarian ticket might make the ballot in all 50 states. As Republican nominee Donald Trump sinks in the polls, dozens of prominent GOPers have indicated they’ll direct their vote elsewhere.
Why, then, has Johnson struggled to attract more high-profile Republican support?
In part, Johnson’s positions on marijuana use and legalization seem to be playing a role. Not only is Johnson the only viable remaining candidate in favor of legalizing the drug, but he has admitted to using it in the recent past.
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Although polls show that a significant portion of the public has also indulged in marijuana (not to mention our current and two previous presidents), this appears to be a bridge too far for some prominent Republicans who might otherwise have been open to him. Just one Republican official, Rep. Scott Rigell, has announced he’ll vote for Johnson.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins, one of the most prominent anti-Donald Trump Republicans, has said she wished Johnson was not at the top of the Libertarian ticket because she is “concerned” about his position on marijuana.
Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, another vehement opponent to Trump, has offered the same sentiment. Marijuana “makes people stupid,” Romney told CNN in June. He said he could have easily supported the Libertarian ticket if Johnson’s vice presidential pick, moderate former Massachusetts governor William Weld, had been chosen as the standard-bearer.
Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), who opposes Trump and says he will not support Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “under any circumstances,” has also drawn the line on Johnson over the drug issue.
“I think Gary Johnson’s made some statements . something like he’s not going to smoke dope between now and the election. That’s not particularly encouraging or inspiring,” said Dent during an appearance earlier this month on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”
Although Dent admitted to not knowing Johnson, he, too, said he’d feel more comfortable if the ticket were “reversed,” with Weld as the presidential nominee.
Gov. Johnson on Congress and marijuana
For the record, Johnson has vowed not to use marijuana or drink alcohol while he is campaigning (although there has been some dispute over when he has stopped) or if he becomes president. NBC News has reached out to Johnson’s campaign for comment, but has not heard back at this time.
According to Ethan Nadelmann, the executive director of Drug Policy Action, a non-partisan political advocacy group, Johnson’s critics often fail to see how serious he is on the issue of reform.
As a Republican governor, Johnson earned a reputation for being swift with his veto pen, especially when it came to spending bills, but he broke ranks with his party on marijuana legalization and worked with Democrats in the state legislature to increase funding for drug treatment.
“I felt that Gary Johnson was courageous and bold,” Nadelmann told NBC News. “He was a real role model for responsible leadership on drug policy reform.”
Nadelmann believes that Johnson deserves credit for being ahead of the curve on drug policy at a time when members of both parties were skittish about the issue. Now, as a national candidate, Johnson is also breaking ground by admitting recent recreational drug use, instead of passing it off as a purely youthful indiscretion.
“It’s the evolution from a president who said I smoked but I didn’t inhale . to people beginning to say ‘Well, yeah I use it, what’s the big deal?’ I think we’ll see more people doing that,” Nadelmann said.
Has pot legalization reached a tipping point?
Certainly, it appears that the American public has become increasingly more comfortable with drug use and legalization than some of their elected officials. According to a recent Gallup poll, one in eight adult Americans (13 percent) say they use marijuana, and nearly half the country (43 percent) has at least tried it.
This number represents a dramatic and steady rise from the 4 percent that admitted using marijuana when Gallup first began polling the public back in 1969. Meanwhile, a Quinnipiac University poll in June found that a majority of Americans (54 percent) now support marijuana legalization. It’s another sea change in public opinion that some attribute to the open-minded approach of President Barack Obama, but also could indicate a populace more educated about the potential health benefits of the drug.
Jeffrey M. Zucker, president and co-founder of Green Lion Partners, a business strategy firm working to the elevate the public perception of the legal marijuana industry, is on the front lines of that fight.
The Colorado-based 28-year-old believes that while stopping Trump from becoming president is probably his biggest priority, he is currently leaning toward supporting Johnson in November in part because of his position on marijuana.
“He is the most sane and logical of the three candidates and what he says for the most part resonates with me,” Zucker told NBC News, with the caveat that if he feels his home state state could swing towards Trump, he’s willing to back Clinton. “I respect and appreciate [Johnson’s] acknowledgment of consumption and the cannabis industry. It’s good to change the conversation. There are adults all over the world who use marijuana and are perfectly happy and capable people.”
Libertarian Gary Johnson's positions on drug use and legalization that have gained the most traction, for better or worse.