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Did Marijuana Just Get Its Presidential Candidate?

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson announced he is entering the 2016 presidential race on the Fox Business Network Wednesday.

The two-term governor told host Neil Cavuto he’s looking for the nomination from the Libertarian Party. He stepped down from his position as CEO of Cannabis Sativa Inc. on New Year’s Eve.

His entrance is undoubtedly a game-changer for the marijuana policy discussion, as he represents the most permissive approach to marijuana so far. Rather than simply opposing the drug war or maintaining that the federal government should not interfere with state legalization policies, Johnson is the only candidate to come out and say that marijuana should be legal on the federal level.

Johnson has advocated for marijuana legalization since 1999. In an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation following his announcement, Johnson says marijuana “should be descheduled and legalized.” He predicts that when California votes to legalize recreational marijuana next year, probably around 20 other state legislatures will pass similar legislation.

“I’ve been the highest public official since 1999 to advocate for the legalization of marijuana,” he says.

In contrast to GOP presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul, seen as a libertarian element in the Republican Party, Johnson doesn’t merely want to leave marijuana policy to the states.

“I think he’s someone who says that it really shouldn’t be legal,” Johnson tells TheDCNF. “Leave it to the states is his position.”

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While Paul is likely the closest to his position on marijuana, Johnson views New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as the exact opposite.

“He still wants to throw people in jail. He believes marijuana is a gateway drug…and his position on mandatory minimum sentencing has us with the highest incarceration rate in the world.”

But although millennials widely support major shifts in drug policy, Johnson isn’t under any illusion that marijuana legalization by itself will drum up any amount of serious support for his campaign.

“Let me just put it at zero,” Johnson says. “When you go back four years ago when I was running for president on the Republican side, I made the statement that if everyone that smoked marijuana gave me a dollar, I’d have $150 million dollars in my coffer. None of that happened. It is a big zero when it comes to the ballot box. Is it the right thing to be advocating? Absolutely. But does it result in political benefits? I haven’t seen it.”

Despite broad ranging support for marijuana legalization in the polls — up to 56 percent of the American population — Johnson notes that among governors and members of Congress there is no one advocating for federal legalization of marijuana.

“That’s a big disconnect.”

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