DRUG LEGALIZATION: NM Governor’s Stance Under Fire
New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R) has been taking heat for his suggestion last week that policymakers consider legalizing heroin and marijuana. While in Washington, D.C., Johnson told student groups and members of the Cato Institute his position on legalizing and decriminalizing drugs: "Control it. Regulate it. Tax it. Educate people truthfully about its dangers. If we legalize it, we just might have a better society." He also called the drug war "an absolute failure" that "peddles 'lies' to the nation's youth." He added, "They're told if they try marijuana their brains will be damaged -- a kid tries it and learns that's not true. He wonders what to believe." Instead of pumping money into anti-drug advertising, Johnson advocates putting money into drug treatment and education (Davies, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/11).
Opposition from All Sides
U.S. Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey, visiting New Mexico "to explain national drug strategy," voiced frustration with Johnson, calling his stance "irresponsible." McCaffrey said, "He's not dealing with the same drug-abuse problem I see and the sheriffs see and the drug treatment community sees. He is sending a terrible message to young people." McCaffrey, who doesn't support medical marijuana because "there is no conclusive evidence that it works," also criticized Johnson for vetoing $2.6 million for drug treatment in the last five years, saying, "The governor is not integrating prevention, treatment and law enforcement in a rational way" (Coleman, Albuquerque Journal, 10/8). Santa Fe City Council member Peso Chavez also joined the opposition, saying, "To discuss these issues is acceptable. To conclude what the governor has is irresponsible." Chavez is sponsoring a resolution that denounces Johnson's recent comments, charging that "Johnson has changed his drug policy stance from favoring debate to 'outright resolute support for legalization of marijuana, heroin and other illicit drugs.'" If the city council approves the resolution, a copy of the denouncement will be sent to every New Mexico municipality and county to encourage them to draft similar resolutions. Espanola Public School board President Joe Guillen, who said some children thought "it was all right for them to use drugs because of the governor's support of legalization," also is drafting a resolution that opposes the governor's stance, to be voted on at the next board meeting on Oct. 19 (Navrot, Albuquerque Journal, 10/8). Three members of the state's Drug Enforcement Advisory Council-- David Kitchen, special agent in charge of the FBI in New Mexico, Otero County Sheriff John Lee and Bill Hansen, assistant special agent in charge of the DEA in Albuquerque -- have resigned because they "don't support [Johnson's] call to legalize and regulate" drugs. Kitchen said, "I cannot in good conscience support [Johnson's] current position on legalization and decriminalization of marijuana and heroin" (Contreras, Albuquerque Journal, 10/8). Others, including New Mexico Lt. Gov. Walter Bradley (R) and state Senate Minority Leader L. Skip Vernon (R), have blasted Johnson's opinions (Navrot, Albuquerque Journal, 10/8).
Despite heavy criticism, Johnson said "he is ready for the political consequences." He said, "McCaffrey has made me his poster child in this war. Look, I know this is a zero for anyone holding office -- I'm in the ground and the dirt is being thrown on top of me." Researcher Brad Coker noted that Johnson's stand "hasn't hurt him much," adding, "People know he's independent, speaks his mind, and they don't hold it against him" (Davies, Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/11).