More Americans are saying marijuana should be legalized, and Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson is trying to turn that sentiment to his struggling campaign’s advantage.
According to a Gallup poll released Monday, a record-setting 50 percent of Americans now support the legalization of marijuana, an issue at the heart of Johnson’s presidential campaign. Still, Johnson is reluctant to say his campaign had anything to do with the shift in public opinion.
“I’d like to take credit for it, but I don’t feel like I’ve received any attention running for president,” Johnson, who has so far qualified for only one presidential debate, told The Daily Caller. “I don’t change people’s opinions, people’s opinions change because they talk to each other.”
“This is an issue that, when talked about, advances,” he continued.
According to Gallup, support for marijuana legalization was at only 12 percent in 1969. By 2000 the number was 30 percent, and by 2009 it had jumped another 10 points to 40 percent. Seventy percent favored the legalization of doctor-prescribed medical marijuana, according to a Gallup poll conducted last year.
An avid outdoorsman, Johnson, who was governor of New Mexico between 1994 and 2002, has publicly admitted he used marijuana in lieu of painkillers after a 2005 paragliding accident. “I never exhaled,” Johnson once joked in a play on President Bill Clinton’s famous insistence that he never inhaled the drug. Now Johnson is looking to capitalize on the public’s new openness to pot, providing he can get anyone to pay attention.
“I’d like to somehow turn this to my advantage,” Johnson said. “I’ve been excluded from even being on polls when it comes to who’s running for president and ‘who do you support.’ I would like to see others talk about this, really from a common sense standpoint. So I would like to be on stage and able to discuss this on the national level, debating. If others would take this up, great, but I don’t see it happening given the fact that nobody is on stage talking about it.”
Johnson sees a direct parallel between the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s and 1930s, and the sensitive political issue of marijuana today. “Before (the 18th Amendment outlawing alcohol sales) was repealed, you couldn’t find a politician in support of repealing it,” he says. “After it was repealed, you couldn’t find a politician that wasn’t in support of repealing it. I think this is a similar situation.”
Still, Johnson says that marijuana legalization is first and foremost a moral issue. “I do believe that we should legalize marijuana,” he says. “I think it’s insane that we continue to arrest 1.8 million people a year in this country. I think it’s insane that we have 2.3 million people behind bars, the majority category being drug-related.”
When asked about the single biggest barrier to legalization, Johnson’s answer is unequivocal .
“Our politicians,” he says. “Period. I can think of no other area of public policy like this … Nobody is standing up and saying these laws make sense.”