You don’t hear this pitch very often at Tea Party rallies.
Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a potential Republican candidate for president in 2012, had a message for the few thousand who showed up on the Capitol grounds for Sunday’s 9/12 Taxpayer March on Washington: consider marijuana legalization.
“We have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world, that’s on a per capita basis,” Johnson told the crowd, making the argument that the war on drugs is an economic issue. “Half of what we spend on law enforcement, the courts and the prisons is drug related. We’re arresting 1.8 million people a year in this country on drug related crime.”
To scattered applause — and a few audible boos — Johnson said, “I suggest that legalizing marijuana will make this country a better place.”
He prefaced his plea for the Tea Party folk to take a look at the issue by admitting that his stance on drugs isn’t always popular. “I made a pledge to New Mexico that I would put the issues that should be on the front burner on the front burner regardless of the political consequences,” he said.
In an interview afterwards, Johnson told The Daily Caller that “with a little bit of knowledge, people really move on this issue.”
“Present drug policy is insane. If we’re gonna look at the economics of this country, drug policy is part of that,” he said.
The former Republican governor was profiled by the Associated Press last week as a possible contender for president in 2012 whose “libertarian views and small government platform fit the disenchantment many voters feel toward Washington.” The article included a quote from Texas Republican Rep. Ron Paul —from an interview with TheDC — saying Johnson would be a suitable Republican nominee.
But on Sunday, Johnson declined to address that speculation, as he has done in past interviews, saying he can’t because of the non-profit status of his group. “I would be sideways with my legal status if I were to do that,” he said.
Others who addressed the Washington, D.C. crowd included Indiana Republican Rep. Mike Pence and conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart.