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As fires were still raging in New Mexico, PLAYBOY sent Contributing Editor
David Sheff to meet with Johnson. Here's Sheff's report:

"Johnson's workout regimen is intense-the morning we met, he had already
run a dozen miles and had been to the gym. He says it helps him cope with
the enormous stress of being governor. Johnson seemed focused and
efficient. Leaving a political rally, in the morning, he was ganged up on
by television reporters, his cell phone rang with reports from the center
of the fire-fighting operation, and assistants vied for his attention with
constant new crises. Through it all, Johnson's eyes gleamed. It made me
wonder if he'll be able to retire from politics as he claims. 'I will,' he
insisted. 'There's not a doubt in my mind.' But he wouldn't be the first
politician to back down from such a promise.

"Unusual for any politician, Johnson never seemed evasive and never
declined to answer a question directly. He enjoyed sparring, even over
tough issues, and was still talking as a staff member dragged him away. A
helicopter was waiting to fly him to the fires."

PLAYBOY: Of all the issues, why this crusade for the legalization of drugs?

JOHNSON: It is the biggest issue in the country, and it's not being addressed.

PLAYBOY: It is supposedly being addressed by the long-fought war on drugs
under drug czar Barry McCaffrey.

JOHNSON: The war on drugs is a mindboggling failure.

PLAYBOY: According to whom? Some statistics suggest that drug use is down.

JOHNSON: That's absolute baloney. I just don't buy it. In one survey people
were asked if they did drugs. First, they were asked in the Seventies. I
can imagine people responding, "Well, sure, doesn't everybody?" Today, they
would likely say "No way" before hanging up. It's a different time. But if
we have reduced drug use by half--some claim it has gone down from 26
million to 13 million users--where are the corresponding dollar savings? We
have gone from spending 1.8 billion federal dollars to spending 30-plus
billion federal dollars. As we approach zero users, are we going to be at
$400 billion? Come on. Among the graduating class of 2000, more than half
of the students admitted that they used drugs, which means the number is
probably higher. Where is the decline? We spend $30 billion to $40 billion
a year--plus the cost of incarceration--and haven't dented the problem.
Drugs remain a $200-billion-a-year business. For the billions we spend,
only 5 to 15 percent of the drugs entering the country are seized. Does
that sound like success to you?

PLAYBOY: Your many opponents, including the Albuquerque district attorney,
believe that legalization would exacerbate the problem. First, they say
more people would do drugs if they were legal.

JOHNSON: Kids who have been surveyed say it's easier to get illegal drugs
than beer. They say prescription drugs are less available than illegal
drugs. The evidence shows that more people won't do drugs if they're legal.
Holland is the only country in the world that has a rational drug policy. I
had always heard that Holland, where marijuana is decriminalized and
controlled, had out-of-control drug abuse and crime. But when I researched
it, I learned that's untrue. It's propaganda. Holland has 60 percent of the
drug use--both hard drugs and marijuana--the United States has. They have a
quarter the crime rate, a quarter the homicide rate, a quarter the violent
crime rate and a tenth the incarceration rate. It suggests that more people
don't do drugs because they're legal. But let's just say that the number of
users would go up. I don't think it would, but if it did I still would say
it was worthwhile. Look at the trade-off.

PLAYBOY: What trade-off?

JOHNSON: Half of all crime is drug-related. Half. Half of what we spend on
law enforcement, half of what we spend on the courts and half of what we
spend on prisons is drug-related. That's billions of dollars that could be
spent on education, on other crimes, on other issues. If we legalized
drugs, we would destroy the environment that allows and even encourages all
those crimes. We know that prohibition drives a black market and all sorts
of related crimes. Prohibition sets the stage for criminals, from the small
dealers on the street to the drug kingpins. If police didn't have to deal
with drug-related crimes, they could fight other crimes and increase our
quality of life. Same with courts and prisons. We could educate people
about the danger of drugs in a more effective way. Anyway, I would argue
that some kids do drugs because they're illegal, purely out of rebellion. I
know that it's partly why I did them. We were told you couldn't do it, so
hey.... I am not alone in this. You see a sign: WET PAINT. Is it really
wet? DON'T OPEN THIS DOOR. I usually don't, but I want to. Part of the
reason kids get so excited about smoking, drinking and drugs is because
they are prohibited from doing them.

PLAYBOY: How would the legalization of heroin actually work?

JOHNSON: Only addicts would be allowed to get drugs. They would have to get
a prescription.

PLAYBOY: But wouldn't there still be a large group of people who use heroin
casually? Wouldn't there still be a black market?

JOHNSON: Yes, you bet. But it is going to reduce the problem, which is a
start. We have to look at the other users, too. We should start with the
drug addicts and then explore the problem posed by the other users. For
drug addicts, we should look at all the tools in the box. One of the ideas
I proposed is that methadone should be available from drugstores, not just
from clinics. One of the criticisms of methadone clinics is their
clientele. Why don't we just allow people to go to drugstores and get their
methadone with a prescription? Heroin maintenance is another idea I
proposed. It's a harm-reduction strategy. Instead of pretending that drugs
are going to go away, we should do everything we can to minimize the
negative impact of drugs---reduce crime, reduce the number of people
incarcerated for drug use.

PLAYBOY: What's your view on medical marijuana?

JOHNSON: Of course I think it should be allowed.

PLAYBOY: Yet your home state doesn't allow it.

JOHNSON: It's not likely to happen. Now, in particular, there is a backlash
against anything drug-related in the state. It's a backlash against me.

PLAYBOY: Is your campaign actually hurting your cause?

JOHNSON: Not for a second.

PLAYBOY: But people might feel that something as innocuous as medical
marijuana or a needle exchange program is just the beginning in their
governor's agenda to legalize every drug.

JOHNSON: Well, my goal is for a more rational drug policy. There's no
question that I've moved the needle. I've moved the needle nationally. I've
moved it in the direction it needs to go. It's a start, but there need to
be 3000 other people espousing the same ideas. These other programs--needle
exchange, medical marijuana--are important, but they don't address the
great ills caused by prohibition.

PLAYBOY: Meanwhile you vetoed legislation that would have gone toward drug
treatment services.

JOHNSON: Every year since I have been governor, our state legislature has
overspent an average of $30 million a year. Without exception, all my
vetoes are about new programs that we can't pay for. Yes, some good
programs fall to my veto pen. But I won't raise taxes. I've vetoed more
bills since I have been in office than all the other governors combined-550
or so. Most of the vetoes have to do with spending money we don't have. I
am a fiscal conservative. I believe in drug-treatment programs, however. We
should treat drugs as a health problem, not a crime.

PLAYBOY: You raised the issue of legalization at the Western Governor's
Association Conference. What was the reaction?

JOHNSON: There was good discussion, which is all I can ask for. The most
significant thing about all this is that we're talking about drugs and
alternative policies. Legalization is not around the corner. I realize what
a taboo it is. It's political suicide to push it, but ultimately the best
politics is the truth. There is no question in my mind that this country is
going to develop rational drug policies. The question is, is it going to
take 80 years or is it going to happen in a more reasonable amount of time?

PLAYBOY: What sort of time frame would you consider to be reasonable?

JOHNSON: Within the next decade. It's possible that things will change by

PLAYBOY.. Do you believe that all drugs should be legal?

JOHNSON: If we legalized all drugs across the board, we would have a better
situation than we have today. If all illicit drugs were available over the
counter, things would be better. But that's not what I am advocating. I
think that we should start with certain drugs, based on existing models.
There are models that exist in this world for the legalization of heroin.
There is a model when it comes to marijuana. There isn't a model for
cocaine, methamphetamines, LSD and so on. I am not advocating legalization,
but I do think we should look into it.

PLAYBOY: Are you again referring to Holland?

JOHNSON: And Switzerland, where addicts can get prescriptions for heroin.
With a prescription, an addict can get a fix at a clinic. The cost is a
tenth of what it is on the street, plus it is a clean product and there are
clean needles. As a result, the crime associated with those drugs is way
down. So is the spread of hepatitis C, AIDS and other diseases. You don't
have to be involved in a crime to get your next fix, and there isn't a
crime ring providing it. You don't have to recruit other heroin addicts in
order to pay for your heroin. In New Mexico, it is estimated that 15,000
heroin addicts get up every morning with one thing on their mind: the next
fix. There are thousands in every state in the U.S. They will do whatever
is required. If they need to commit crimes, they will. They will use drugs
that can be lethal. They will use unclean needles. If we aren't yet ready
to legalize heroin, let's at least reduce the harm associated with heroin.
We can do it through health strategies, including heroin-maintenance
programs. It's a misconception that drugs are a huge killer. Relative to
tobacco, they aren't. Tobacco kills about 400,000 people per year. Alcohol
kills about 150,000, and that doesn't include deaths from drinking and
driving. Legal prescription drugs kill 100,000 people. Cocaine and heroin
kill about 3000 people. Where is the bogeyman? Yet we are arresting 1.6
million people a year for drugs. Eight hundred thousand of them are
marijuana users.

PLAYBOY: If cigarettes and alcohol are bigger killers than drugs, rather
than legalizing drugs one could argue that alcohol and cigarettes should be

JOHNSON: It doesn't work. Look at Prohibition. We live in America. We live
in a free society where we are able to make choices. America is about
allowing choice. It's about giving individuals freedoms and holding them
accountable for those freedoms.

PLAYBOY.' At what point does the government step in, though? Do you
disagree that the government should regulate cigarette companies and
prohibit them from pushing cigarettes to children ?

JOHNSON: The government should be involved when it comes to advertising to
children, yes. There are other times the government needs to regulate. We
would have to wrestle all this out if we were going to legalize drugs. We
would have to learn a lesson from our experience with tobacco and alcohol.
There needs to be a new set of laws. I would disallow advertising for
drugs. In fact, I would put money in advertising that says drugs are a bad
choice. ! would use real, honest advertising. In spite of all the
antismoking ads, the real killer is tobacco. But I certainly wouldn't
outlaw cigarettes. Does a person have a right to choose whether or not to
smoke? Yes. Does a restaurant owner have the right to decide whether or not
his establishment should be smoke free? Absolutely. Should the government
decide that cities should be smoke-free zones? No.

PLAYBOY: When it comes to marijuana, would you settle for decriminalization
rather than full-blown legalization?

JOHNSON: Decriminalization turns its back on half of the problem. With
decriminalization, you are going to allow a person to possess and use
marijuana, but not to buy it. In other words, how are people going to get
the pot? They are still going to get it from illegal dealers who are buying
it from bigger dealers. Decriminalization doesn't deal with the problems of
street crime and organized crime. It doesn't at all deal with the drug
kingpins. Of course marijuana use should be decriminalized, but we also
have to stop the illegal activities that support the industry. Only
legalization does that. People don't like to hear about legalization.
Worse, when they hear about the legalization of heroin, bombs go off. Whoa!
But in none of the legalization scenarios could a person go to a store and
buy heroin. I am talking about control, regulation, taxation and safer
heroin. Just as we use taxes from cigarettes for health programs, we could
use taxes on drugs for health programs to deal with the problems that exist.

PLAYBOY: Wouldn't there still be an underworld supplying drugs--cheaper,
stronger and more varieties?

JOHNSON: Initially there would still be black markets, sure. But give it a
little time. Look at the liquor industry. We don't buy bathtub gin anymore.
Why not? Why buy bathtub gin when we can get the real thing at a reasonable
price? The same would be true for drugs. Why would kids who are going to
use drugs buy street drugs if they could get drugs they knew were safe at a
good price? Kids will still buy designer drugs and other drugs on the black
market. It's why we need to look at the legalization of those, too.

PLAYBOY: Do you dispute the argument that marijuana is the gateway drug,
that it leads to more serious drugs?

JOHNSON: It's baloney. Marijuana is not a gateway drug. On the other hand,
because of the black market, it can become a gateway drug. When you go to
your marijuana dealer, if he happens to be out of marijuana, he may offer
other drugs from his box. He may have some cocaine and heroin, LSD,
designer drugs, etc. If you legalize pot, you are taking away the gateway

PLAYBOY: But marijuana may be a gateway drug in a subtler way. When a
person decides to go against cultural or parental influences to do one
drug, why not try other drugs?

JOHNSON: That leads to the way we misinform about drugs. The education we
try to impart causes some of the problem. We say that marijuana will
destroy your life. Someone tries it and it doesn't destroy his life. We say
marijuana will make you crazy and kill your brain cells, that it will lead
you into crime.

PLAYBOY: On the contrary, you have been criticized for telling high school
students that marijuana is cool.

JOHNSON: You hear you're going to lose your mind and go crazy and even die
if you smoke marijuana. I said, "You know what? I smoked marijuana, and
when I smoked it, none of those things happened. In fact, it was kind of
cool." You have to tell the truth. When kids realize you're lying, they
will no longer listen to you. They may think the stuff you've been telling
them about other drugs isn't true either. So part of a useful education
program about drugs is honesty. People try pot and they don't go crazy.
They don't get into crime. It doesn't destroy their lives, necessarily. We
have to be honest.

PLAYBOY: Are you saying that marijuana use is completely benign?

JOHNSON: No! Marijuana is a handicap. You do marijuana, you are not going
to be able to fly that airplane. You are not going to be able to function
as a human being as well as if you didn't smoke pot.

PLAYBOY: Is that your view after your personal experience?

JOHNSON: Yes. No question. Marijuana is a handicap. It is. Just like
alcohol. I've stopped both because I have enough handicaps.

PLAYBOY: Do you feel there are any lasting effects of your pot smoking?

JOHNSON: I don't feel there are any lasting effects at all. Same with
alcohol, although I think alcohol is a lot more insidious than pot.

PLAYBOY: You once said that at a party you should watch out for the boy who
has been drinking, but that "the one who's smoked marijuana just wants to
put on a headset and attack a bag of potato chips."

JOHNSON: It's true. I talk to police officers-the guys on the street. When
they show up to a house where there has been a call about domestic violence
and walk in on a roomful of people smoking pot, they know they are at the
wrong house. Violent behavior is not associated with marijuana.

PLAYBOY: Yet some of the police officers in your home state are your
loudest critics.

JOHNSON: Not the cops on the street. The ones ranting and raving about me
are the bosses, the guys who have been elected or appointed to their jobs.
They are politicians. Police on the street know the logic of what I'm
saying. They are the ones who have to deal with the bad drug laws. They
have to make the arrests. They have to walk into dangerous situations where
there are drug deals going on. They have to arrest kids for selling drugs,
and they are the ones who see the downhill course life takes from then on.
They know these kids need help, not jail. I never want to discount the real
problems that some people have with drugs. Some people can't handle drugs
and do become addicted. That's a health problem and we have to deal with it.

PLAYBOY: Have your Republican colleagues treated you differently since you
came out for legalization?

JOHNSON: Yes and no. Initially they thought I was crazy, insane. Some
people still maintain I'm crazy, but others are saying, "Wait a minute.
He's raising some important issues." I never expected to change things
overnight. The goal was to raise the issues.

PLAYBOY.. Do you find that some of the personal attacks you have received
have been disconcerting?

JOHNSON: I recognize the fact that the first one over the hill gets shot.
PLAYBOY: When you took on this issue, there were resignations on your
staff. Did the defections hurt?

JOHNSON: Those people made their decisions, and history will be the judge.
I feel fine in that regard.

PLAYBOY: How do you respond to Barry McCaffrey, who calls you Puff Daddy

JOHNSON: I don't take it personally. He has the job. If it weren't him, it
would be somebody else. At the same time, I don't know how long that
antiquated attitude is going to last.

PLAYBOY: You waited to raise the issue of legalization until your second
term. Would it have been political suicide to do it before this?

JOHNSON: Maybe, though I was ready to tackle it anytime. I just wanted to
do it wisely and cautiously. In my first six months in office, I met with
my entire cabinet. I told them that at some point I would be asked about my
view of drugs. I said that I would answer those questions like I answer
everything else: honestly. The questions would lead to the fact that I
believe the war on drugs is a failure and that we need to be looking at
alternatives. Alternatives have to include looking at legalization.

PLAYBOY: Why did you wait to raise the issue?

JOHNSON: I wanted to do all of my homework. When I got elected for my
second term, I had a meeting with a couple of people, including the head of
the Republican Party in New Mexico, and said that I would like to make a
bold statement about the war on drugs. I said, I don't know if legalization
is the answer, but it certainly has to be looked at. They agreed. At that
time, I really had no idea that legalization was the answer--or that there
were such compelling arguments in favor of legalization. I just said, Let's
declare the war on drugs a failure and look at alternatives. I believed the
rumor that Holland has drug use and crime through the roof. Then I began to
research it. Whoa! Wait a minute. I don't need to study things to death as
many politicians tend to. We need to gather the facts--and there are only
so many of them--and then make a decision. I looked at the facts for about
six weeks and decided that legalization is a viable alternative. And I said so.

PLAYBOY: Would you have brought up this issue if you planned to run again
for office?

JOHNSON: I don't plan to run again for office.

PLAYBOY: If you did, would you still push to legalize drugs?

JOHNSON: I'm doing it because it needs to be done. It has nothing to do
with my political plans or the fact that I don't have any. Should the issue
be raised? That's why I'm pushing it. That said, I've got two and a half
more years in office and I can do whatever I believe in. I don't have to
think about reelection. It's a liberating feeling, absolutely.

PLAYBOY: Does your experience influence your opinion of term limits? In
other words, do term limits allow politicians to push for issues they care
about rather than worrying about the implications for reelection?

JOHNSON: That's absolutely a case for term limits. Politicians shouldn't
spend most of their time in office trying to get reelected.

PLAYBOY: What happens if you change your mind and decide to run for office

JOHNSON: I won't. No, no, no.

PLAYBOY: Is it because you have had it with politics?

JOHNSON: No. I've enjoyed it. I really have. But from the start, I looked
at this on an eight-year horizon. I thought, Boy, if I were able to serve
for eight years, wow. It's exactly what I wanted and now I want to do
everything I can before I leave office. My worst fear is leaving office and
thinking, Coulda, shoulda, woulda.

PLAYBOY: Besides raising this debate about the legalization of drugs, What
do you consider your most important contributions as governor?

JOHNSON: I believe I've moved the needle on every single issue that exists
in this state. I'm talking about economic development, lower taxes--there
hasn't been a single tax raise in five years,: which has never happened
before. There are 1200 fewer state employees today than when I took office,
which means we're running a more efficient: state government. We're
building twice ! as many four-lane highways in the state and didn't raise
taxes to do it. We're building a telecommunications infrastructure and
prisons, and the schools are getting better.

PLAYBOY: Yet one survey rated the schools in New Mexico as among the worst
in the nation. It concluded that New Mexico is the worst state to be a
child in the country.

JOHNSON: Democrats have controlled New Mexico in the legislature for 70
years now. If we want real change in New Mexico, they are going to have to
give the Republicans a shot. What gets changed when you bring the
Republicans in? You bring in higher-paying jobs. You do that because you
reduce taxes, which are still too high in New Mexico. You get a lot more
accountability in the education system.

PLAYBOY: Do you disagree about the low ranking of your state in that and
other surveys?

JOHNSON: I was born in North Dakota and lived in South Dakota for eight
years. I lived in Minnesota for one year. I moved here when I was 13. North
and South Dakota are always ranked two of the best places to raise a child
in the United States and New Mexico is always ranked the worst. But as a
child, at 13, I would never have wanted to go back to North or South
Dakota. In addition, I would never want to raise my kids in North or South
Dakota. I'm not picking on North or South Dakota, but this statistic about
New Mexico is not fair. We are a unique place. We've got a large Hispanic
population. We have immigrants from Mexico. Over 10 percent of our
population is Native American. We are culturally diverse. But with these
populations, at this stage in our history, the diversity also means very
low wages. We have a rural economy with the exception of the Rio Grande
corridor. Does all that make it an unattractive place? No. It's a beautiful
place, a wonderful place.

PLAYBOY: As governor of a border state, what is your view of the
immigration issue?

JOHNSON: I don't think Easterners recognize that the Hispanics who
immigrate are great people, great citizens. They care about their families
like other Americans care about their families. They're living in poverty
in Mexico and can come to the United States and do a lot better.

PLAYBOY: By--according to some--taking away jobs.

JOHNSON: They work the lowest-paying jobs, which is a huge step up from
where they come from. And they are taking jobs that other Americans don't
necessarily want. They're hardworking people who are taking jobs that
others don't want. That's the reality.

PLAYBOY: Would you open the borders and make it easier to immigrate legally?

JOHNSON: My vision of the border with Mexico is that a truck from the
United States going into Mexico and a truck coming from Mexico into the
United States will pass each other at the border going 60 miles an hour.
Yes, we should have open borders. It will help enormously with the drug
issue, too, by the way. One of the huge raps on Mexico is that it is a drug
supplier, that it's the drug corridor. But there wouldn't be drugs coming
in illegally from Mexico if there weren't the demand in the United States.
We have a militarized border with Mexico, and it's a shame. It doesn't work
very well, either. Mexican mules get paid a king's ransom to carry
marijuana or cocaine across the border, but they are just mules. If they
get caught, they're the ones who get locked up, not the drug lords. One out
of eight gets caught. Whoever's paying them south of the border knows that
equation and understands the risk.

PLAYBOY: In California, there was a backlash against illegal immigrants.
Voters passed a proposition that would have denied them medical and other

JOHNSON: It wouldn't be a problem if they were legal, so the process to
make them legal should be easier.

PLAYBOY: Many Americans fear the flood of immigrants that would follow.

JOHNSON: Again, they would come over and take jobs that we don't want. They
would become taxpayers. They're just pursuing dreams---the same dreams we
all have. They work hard. What's wrong with that?

PLAYBOY: Is that behind your support of Nafta?

JOHNSON: Yes. Nafta has benefited New Mexico. With each passing day, it's a
bigger boom for New Mexico as a border state.

PLAYBOY: Do you disagree that Nafta has caused the "sucking sound" Ross
Perot warned of--the sound of U.S. jobs being sucked into Mexico?

JOHNSON: Again, my opinion is that the jobs we're talking about are those
we generally don't want. What jobs are we saving?

PLAYBOY: Manufacturing jobs.

JOHNSON: There is a shifting, and some companies have relocated to Mexico.
But we've benefited far more than we have lost. Also, it's still settling.
Intel has a new semiconductor manufacturing plant in Albuquerque, one of
the most sophisticated plants on the planet. It is in the U.S. because the
workers are qualified and efficient here. If we're not competitive, we had
better get competitive. We're moving toward a global economy whether we
like it or not.

PLAYBOY: Let's touch on some other issues. Where do you stand on the matter
of gun control?

JOHNSON: I'm one of those who believe the bumper sticker: If you outlaw
guns, only outlaws will have guns. The first people who are going to be in
line to turn in their guns are law-abiding citizens. Criminals are going to
be left with guns. I believe that concealed carry is a way of reducing gun

PLAYBOY: Do you carry a gun?

JOHNSON: I don't and I don't own a gun, but I'd still just as soon have the
concealed carry law. If the guy who is going to hold up a car knows there
is the possibility of a concealed weapon, he may think twice. We don't have
that law here.

PLAYBOY: But the statistics show that people don't use guns to stop crime.
They use them to hurt themselves or innocent people.

JOHNSON: Yeah, but there is deterrence in the legality of guns. It's also
part of the Constitution.

PLAYBOY. The NRA disagrees with any limits, from the Brady law to controls
of automatic weapons. Do you?

JOHNSON: I don't believe the laws regarding guns are effective. We're
allowed to bear arms. It's part of a free society.

PLAYBOY: Where do you stand on abortion rights?

JOHNSON: It should be left up to the woman. If my daughter were pregnant
and she came to me and asked me what she ought to do, I would advise her to
have the child. But I would not for a minute pretend that I should make
that decision for her or any other woman.

PLAYBOY: But you have supported legislation that requires parental consent
and signed a ban on partial birth abortions.

JOHNSON: I think the decision can be made at an earlier stage. That's why I
don't support partial birth abortions. I realize it's a fine line, but I
generally come down on a woman's right to decide.

PLAYBOY: Do you disagree that parental consent is problematic for teenagers
who can't talk to their parents?

JOHNSON: I believe that parents ought to know. Where that can't occur,
there needs to be a process in place, which we have in New Mexico.

PLAYBOY: What's your view about campaign finance reform?

JOHNSON: If you're talking about reform where you want to do away with soft
money, yeah, I think that's good. If RJR wants to give me $100,000 for my
campaign, it can't. But it can give it to the Republican Party and then the
Republican Party will write a check to me. It's not directly from the
cigarette manufacturer and all I have to say is that I got it from the
party. So I think that should be reformed. The public should know exactly
where every penny comes from. But I don't think there should be limits on

PLAYBOY: But big contributions mean the wealthy have much more political
influence than the middle class or poor.

JOHNSON: My biggest contributor during the last two campaigns gave me over
$150,000. Not once since I've been elected has he been on the phone to tell
me anything about what I should do as governor. Is that not better than 150
people giving me a limit of $1000? Of those 150, there's a good chance that
50 are going to be on the phone trying to tell me what to do.

PLAYBOY: But you would be far more beholden to the one person who gave

JOHNSON: The problem isn't large contributions. The problem is that we
don't know who contributed. In New Mexico, there's no limit on what I can
receive from anyone, but I have to disclose it all--with the exception of
soft money. I get a contribution from the Republican Party of, say,
$200,000 or $300,000. Well, in a lot of cases, that's from individuals who
have contributed to the national party but earmarked it for me. That needs
reform. If you limit contributions from an individual to, say, $1000, then
I think just the opposite occurs. Then you have politicians beholden to way
too many people.

PLAYBOY: Why wouldn't you cut both-soft money and large contributions? Then
you could level the playing field.

JOHNSON: All of the campaign finance reform I have seen would preclude
someone like myself from ever getting elected. I spent half a million
dollars of my own money to get elected. I was not going to get involved in
politics prior to my being able to afford to. That way I wouldn't be
indebted to anyone.

PLAYBOY: That's why so many Americans are cynical. Only wealthy people can
run for office.

JOHNSON: It's a problem, but it's also a misconception. Only money can beat
incumbents. If you pass campaign reform tomorrow, I'm set for the rest of
my life. I'm the incumbent now. My name is known. It's all about name
familiarity. All money does is get your name in front of people. Then it's
up to you. What's coming out of your mouth? Is it making sense or not?
People are smart enough to decide. We had a candidate here for the Congress
last election cycle who spent nearly $6 million of his own money and didn't
get elected. Money isn't enough.

PLAYBOY: But you're saying then that only incumbents or rich people should
be able to run.

JOHNSON: For the most part, people who are involved in politics are not
wealthy. For the most part, people who are involved in politics have worked
their way up through the political system and become indebted to everyone
along the way. Is that better? That's the reality. I'm not saying it's
right. On the other hand, you have people like me who come in from nowhere.
I'm indebted to nobody. But campaign finance reform legislation would have
precluded me from being successful. You wouldn't be doing this interview today.

PLAYBOY: When was the first time you thought about elected office?

JOHNSON: I always believed that politics was a high calling. I was raised
believing that you could make a difference. I always hoped to be able to
have a chance to make a positive difference. There are many who would line
up to say I haven't done anything positive, and I understand that. But
that's in my heart, that's my motivation.

PLAYBOY: What kind of child were you?

JOHNSON: I was way too serious. I was an insomniac. I had too many things
on my mind.

PLAYBOY: What were you doing in the middle of the night?

JOHNSON: I just couldn't stop thinking. I couldn't ever stop thinking. This
is the first time I've admitted it, but I quit being an insomniac when I
started smoking pot. That was one of the side effects for me.

PLAYBOY: Was it because it helped slow you down?

JOHNSON: Yeah, it did. I haven't had insomnia since then. After I stopped
smoking pot, I guess my fitness regimen helped. Now I can go to sleep in
five minutes.

PLAYBOY: What brought your family to New Mexico when you were 13?

JOHNSON: My mother got transferred to Albuquerque in 1966, working in
accounting for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. My father came here unemployed
and became a teacher in the Albuquerque public schools. He had fallen in
love with New Mexico when he was in the Boy Scouts. Have you seen Saving
Private Ryan? My father was Private Ryan. That is, he was in the 101st
Airborne Division, jumped into Normandy days before the invasion, scattered
along with Private Ryan and thousands of others. He was in that group.

PLAYBOY: What did you plan to do for a living?

JOHNSON: I didn't know. I wanted to make money. I started a business my
third year in college as a handyman, going door to door. Since I turned 17,
I have paid for everything I've ever had: clothes, transportation, gas,

PLAYBOY: Was that a strict principle of your parents, or were they unable
to help you?

JOHNSON: My parents helped. They would loan me money, but I wanted to pay
for myself. I think it helped me be who I am. I have had a great work
ethic. I'm that 10-year-old with a paper route. I'm that 12-year-old who
came around and would do your lawn every week.

PLAYBOY: Were you a popular kid? Did you have any girlfriends?

JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, I was all right. I think people enjoyed being around me.

PLAYBOY: Did you date a lot?

JOHNSON: I met my wife in college on a skiing trip.

PLAYBOY: You've said you did drugs in college. For some people, drugs might
be a form of self-medication for depression or other problems. Were they
for you or were they simply fun?

JOHNSON: Drugs alter a person's consciousness for a little while, and it's
enjoyable. For most people, that's the reason that they do drugs.

PLAYBOY: And is that what it was for you?

JOHNSON: Oh, yes, yes. It was about altering or expanding my mind. That's
the way I viewed it. We're talking about 1970. Eventually I decided that
drugs were a handicap, but it took me a while to arrive at that conclusion.
That's when I decided not to do drugs, not to drink. Prior to trying pot, I
would go out for a few beers. That was something kids did. I wasn't unlike
a lot of other kids. Then, when I discovered marijuana, I preferred it
because there were no headaches afterward.

PLAYBOY: What other drugs did you try?

JOHNSON: Cocaine. I quickly came to understand why people get addicted to
cocaine. Whew. For me personally, it wasn't anything I was going to get
involved with.

PLAYBOY: Because it's seductive?

JOHNSON: I saw danger. It wasn't anything you wanted to be doing.

PLAYBOY: Did you try anything else--psychedelic drugs? Heroin?

JOHNSON: No, but I had a lot of friends who did them. I have friends who
did heroin--I saw them do heroin--and they never were addicted. They just
experimented with it. So that's another myth: Everyone who tries heroin
becomes an addict.

PLAYBOY: Why do you think you drew the line?

JOHNSON: I saw enough friends try it. They were a little more handicapped
than I was and I didn't need that.

PLAYBOY: From your personal experience, how can you persuade kids not to
smoke cigarettes or do drugs?

JOHNSON: You must be absolutely honest with them. You have to tell them the
effects. They need to know that some people have real problems with drugs.
They should understand that drugs change your consciousness so that from
the time you smoke until the time you come off the drug, you are going to
be less of a human being. Your brain isn't going to function as fast. You
have to be as honest as you can and then recognize that in spite of all you
say, they may still do it.

PLAYBOY: Do you believe that peer pressure is an enormous factor in kids'
trying drugs?

JOHNSON: Yes, although I always hate to say that for the most part people
use drugs responsibly. It is misunderstood; people think I'm advocating
drug use. I'm not. But it's a fact: Most people do use drugs responsibly.
They choose when and where to do them. They can afford to do them. Most
people use alcohol responsibly. They do no harm to anyone other than
themselves. Eighty million Americans have done illegal drugs, and obviously
not everybody goes crazy and dies or commits crimes. Like it or not, it's a

PLAYBOY: As a politician, did you worry about admitting that you used drugs?

JOHNSON: No. I volunteered it to the press before they asked. I did drugs
and wasn't going to hide it.

PLAYBOY: Did you worry that it could have meant the end of your political

JOHNSON: Absolutely. It was one of my greatest political fears. But in the
same breath, I had to divulge it.

PLAYBOY: Because?

JOHNSON: Because it is part of who I am. If I was going to be elected, the
people had a right to know who I was.

PLAYBOY: How did you feel when President Clinton, as a candidate, said that
he smoked pot but didn't inhale?

JOHNSON: I didn't respect that at all. I knew I had to do much better than
that. I had to be honest. I hate to say anything flippant regarding this
subject, but I'm not the first to say that if you came out of the Sixties
and Seventies and didn't do drugs, there's a question about who you are.
But that was a period when the information about the dangers of drugs
didn't exist. Most of the freethinking people in the culture were trying
them. It was a different time. Now I try to lead by example. I don't do
caffeine, sugar, alcohol, tobacco or drugs. Don't do them. I wouldn't be
sitting here if I did any of those things.

PLAYBOY: Why not?

JOHNSON: They're a handicap. I just couldn't do what I do; I couldn't have
accomplished what I've accomplished.

PLAYBOY: But sugar?

JOHNSON: Sugar got in the way of how I felt. I haven't had sugar for three
years. No Cokes. Not a cookie. Not a candy bar.

PLAYBOY: Was there a specific moment, an epiphany, when you stopped drugs?

JOHNSON: I stopped pot because of a specific experience. I was going to be
a professional ski racer and pursued professional racing. I skied a couple
125-day seasons in northern Idaho after college. I was racing gates every
day. I never made a nickel at professional ski racing--I was lousy at it
but I pursued it. One day, I set up a set of gates and punched my stopwatch
and skied down the hill. I did it in 17 seconds. I went up the lift and
skied down through the gates again and made 16 seconds. I went through the
course again and did it in 15 seconds. The next time I got on the
chairlift, a ski patrolman whipped out a joint--that was a common
occurrence. We smoked pot up to the top of the lift and I went through the
course a fourth time. Oh my God, I had the fastest run? It was smooth,
perfect. But then I looked at my watch. I was thinking, 13 seconds! But it
was 19 seconds! Whoa! It was a revelation. If I did 19 and thought I was so
much faster than I really was, then this is carrying over into other areas,
too. I thought, I don't need this.

PLAYBOY: Was it the last joint?

JOHNSON: Not the last, but it broke the habit. People think they can
function just as well, but they can't. A lot of athletes smoke pot because
they can't drink and perform. Yes, you can smoke pot and perform--you can
get away with it unless they are testing for drugs--but it has an impact.
It has an impact on everything you do. When the Olympic snowboarder tested
positive for marijuana, you have to think what he could have accomplished
if he hadn't been smoking.

PLAYBOY: Maybe the pot relaxed him so he could perform as well as he did.

JOHNSON: I don't think so. I would argue that he could be that much better
if he did no drugs.

PLAYBOY: Is your current athletic regimen a kind of drug for you? Do you
need it to feel OK and to get through the day?

JOHNSON: By 1987, I was pretty religious about working out and I was more
fit than at any other time in my life. It also was the best time in my
life. I saw the connection and made a conscious decision to be as fit as I
possibly can be. I saw a relationship between being fit and simply feeling
good. I have been that way since. I am religious about it.

PLAYBOY: Some might say obsessive.

JOHNSON: Well, it's a way of life.

PLAYBOY: Some of what you've done sounds extreme. The Ironman races are one
thing, but we read that you put yourself in a freezer to test your
endurance to cold.

JOHNSON: That was back in high school. One of my buddies and I bet on how
long we could sit in a freezer to kill time while we were working at a
hamburger joint. It was a high school thing. The other contests, like the
Ironman, are about being fit enough to accomplish great tests. I'm in the
shape to be able to climb Mt. Everest tomorrow. I know there's the altitude
factor, but I'm in good enough shape to do that. I'm in good enough shape
to do the Ironman every single day of the week. That's a good feeling.

PLAYBOY: Apparently you have a point system for your regimen. How does it work?

JOHNSON: Since I was elected, I've done 80 points a week. A point in
running is a mile; in biking, three miles; swimming, a quarter mile. I
figured out the point system after wearing a heart monitor for a long time.
Around ten minutes of crosscountry skiing is a point. I have points for
rollerblading, downhill skiing, rock climbing, hiking and the rest. Eighty
points a week equals about 12 a day. That is, I run the equivalent of 12
miles a day, bike the equivalent of 36 miles a day, or whatever.

PLAYBOY: It's an extreme regimen for most people but unheard of for
politicians, who are known for their three-martini dinners and, at best, a
round of golf. What does it do for you?

JOHNSON: I believe you should try to find out what it is that makes your
life tick really well and then get as much of it as you can, whether it's
golf, fly-fishing, chess, a musical instrument, artistry. I don't push
anyone else to do it, but it makes my life work. I'm out the door every day
at 4:45 in the morning. I'm through with my workouts by eight. Nothing gets
in the way of the workouts. Though I start earlier, I think I hold out
longer and have more energy and stamina because of the workouts.

PLAYBOY: It has been noted that you are the nation's most fit politician.
Who is the least fit?

JOHNSON: I can think of some candidates, hut I'm not going to single them
out. Take a look at my colleagues. You can tell. And they know.

PLAYBOY: Which politicians, especially fellow governors, do you admire?

JOHNSON: George Bush. George Pataki from New York and Christine Whitman
from New Jersey. I have gotten to know Jeb Bush and hold him in high
regard. I've gotten to know ex-California governor Pete Wilson, and I like
him very much. And then there are some other people who make me wonder how
they got elected. No, I won't tell you who.

PLAYBOY: Do you know Jesse Ventura?

JOHNSON: Yes and I sure respect him. He said something to me about the drug
thing--like "right on, right on" and "thank you."

PLAYBOY: In general, do you believe that the Republican Party will ever be
able to leave behind its reputation for being exclusionary?

JOHNSON: Bottom line: I think Republicans are about giving people freedom
and holding them accountable for it. If there's a criticism about me that I
love, it's that I'm a Libertarian. If people call me a Republican
Libertarian, great. I separate myself from the party when it wants to
legislate morality. You can't legislate morality. You lead by example, but
you can't tell people how to live, which, ironically, is a Republican
assumption. A law against smoking marijuana just does not work. There are
other ways to try to get people not to smoke.

PLAYBOY: Considering all the other issues you care about, how will you feel
if your legacy is the governor who wanted to legalize drugs?

JOHNSON: It wouldn't bother me a bit to be the first politician at this
level to push for the legalization of drugs. It will happen, whether in 80
years or 10, as I've said. More candidates will run on the issue of
legalizing drugs. Politicians in office will come to the same
conclusion-that what we're doing isn't working and there has to be another
way. I hope I'll be one of many within a few years. It will come: Drugs
will be legal and we'll be able to move on to tackle many other societal ills.
Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake

Newshawk: MAP - Making A Difference With Your Help
Pubdate: Mon, 01 Jan 2001
Source: Playboy Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2000 Playboy Enterprises, Inc.
Contact: edit@playboy.com
Website: Playboy | Articles, Interviews & More Since 1953 | Playboy
Bookmark: Overload Warning (Johnson, Gary)
Note: MAP posted in 2 parts