New Mexico's Governor Johnson Speaks Out

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The420Guy

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New Mexico's Governor Johnson Speaks Out on Drug Policy in Houston, Sets Up Drug Policy Review Commission at Home, Addressing Shadow Conventions Next Month


New Mexico Republican Governor Gary Johnson returned to promoting
his crusade for a new drug policy in the last two weeks. In a
well-attended speech in Houston sponsored by the Drug Policy
Forum of Texas (DPFT), the governor brought his message to a
mixed audience of reform advocates, mainstream politicians, and
criminal justice professionals. Meanwhile, back in New Mexico,
Governor Johnson has announced the formation of a 40-member
advisory panel to make recommendations for reforms in that
state's drug laws.

Before the June 26 lunchtime speech in Houston, Johnson had an
hour-long meeting with the editorial board of the powerful
Houston Chronicle. According to DPFT Executive Director Al
Robison, who attended the meeting, Johnson was "absolutely
magnificent."

Robison wrote that "He did such a good job with the editorial
board that they ran out of questions for him even before the hour
was up... I have the strongest gut feeling that the Governor had
a very positive impact on the way they're now thinking about the
drug problem, and maybe it'll be reflected in their editorials in
the weeks and months to come. We'll see."

In the speech itself, Johnson shocked some audience members with
his blunt embrace of decriminalizing drug use, beginning with the
legalization of marijuana.

"I think it is really good politics to say that the war on drugs
has failed miserably and that we need to be looking at
alternatives," he said, as quoted in the Houston Chronicle.

Johnson contrasted American drug policies with more enlightened
models elsewhere. He described a Swiss heroin maintenance clinic
where addicts get a prescription and inject the drug.

"The heroin (cost) is significantly less. There's not the need
to commit the crime to be able to pay for the heroin. The heroin
is clean. The needle is clean. The product is a given product.
There is no overdose. There is no hepatitis B and no AIDS."

"Tell me that this is not a better situation from what we
presently have?" he said.

Some audience members appeared open to second thoughts even if
they were not necessarily swayed by the governor's arguments.
Chuck Rosenthal, the Republican Harris County (Houston) district
attorney candidate, told the Chronicle he opposes legalizing
drugs.

"I'm not in favor of it, but I'm always glad to listen to other
options," he said. "I'm not clear on how it shapes up from a
medical standpoint."

And, according to Robison, the chairman of the Harris County
Republican Party paid strict attention to the governor's speech,
especially Johnson's point that being against the war on drugs is
actually good politics.

Robison added that the speech was also attended by deans from the
University of Texas Health Sciences Center, the Democratic and
Republican candidates for Harris Country District Attorney, three
Republican Harris County judges, the Rotary Clubs district
governor, and other politically powerful people.

Since then, Governor Johnson has remained active on the drug
reform front. He will appear at the Shadow Conventions scheduled
to coincide with the Democratic and Republican national
conventions this summer.

In the meantime, he has also, after a year of taking to the
national soapbox on drug policy, turned his sights to his home
state. Johnson has created a new Drug Policy Advisory Group to
study and recommend drug strategies he can enact or present
before the state legislature at its next session in January.

Johnson wants the panel to develop harm reduction policies for
New Mexico, with an emphasis on hard drugs such as heroin. The
panel's recommendations could include calls for needle exchanges,
treatment and prevention programs, government drug-dispensing
clinics and methadone programs.

The group, led by former state District Court Judge Woody Smith,
met for the first time last week. The Albuquerque Tribune quoted
Smith as saying that "every member" of the group agreed on one
thing: the war on drugs is not working.

Johnson told the Tribune that his bottom-line question for the
advisory group is: "Can we point to less harm done by illegal
drugs in our society?"

Albuquerque Mayor Jim Baca, who sits on the panel, told the
Tribune, "I think it's good to get into a logical debate about
it. I really don't know what we'll come up with. All I know is,
things don't work now and something different has to be done."

The Albuquerque Journal, meanwhile, has reported that the group's
expenses are being financed by The Lindesmith Center.