It is rare for a politician to openly advocate the legalization of drugs as the solution to the country's drug problem. But that's just what California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson did this week at the four-day International Drug Policy Reform Conference in downtown Los Angeles.
As the Los Angeles Times remarks, with reggae music blasting and people wearing marijuana leaf-shaped pins, the conference does not seem a likely event for a GOP presidential hopeful to attend. And yet, Republican candidate Johnson, a libertarian often compared to Ron Paul, stood in front of the conference audience and promised that if he was elected president, he would fully pardon anyone in prison for a non-violent marijuana crime.
According to the LA Times, Johnson has been calling for the legalization of marijuana since 1999:
He says he smoked marijuana recreationally when he was younger, and used it more recently to help with the pain after a paragliding accident in 2005. Wherever he goes, Johnson says, people point and say: "That's the marijuana guy." In a recent magazine interview, Johnson said marijuana smokers may be "the largest untapped voting bloc in the country."
On Thursday, Johnson referred to a Gallup poll saying, "Fifty percent of Americans support legalizing marijuana.. But zero percent of the universe of politicians support this." His position in stark contrast to other Republican candidates, Johnson said, "They [Republicans] all talk about border violence and adding guns to the equation instead of looking at the root of the problem, which is prohibition."
According to Intersections South LA, Lt. Gov. Newsom said in his remarks that California is "a state of dreamers, of doers, of entrepreneurs, of innovators" and will "certainly be on the front lines of reconciling the abject failure that has been 40 years, this failed war on drugs." He argued that the failure of national drug policy is reflected in the tripling of prison populations over the past two decades and the strain that's caused on government's budget.
Newsom revealed to the crowd that many politicians believe in legalization but are afraid to voice that position, Intersections South LA reports. "My gosh, if I could just tape-record the private conversations, it would just break your heart," Newsom said. "We know better, we're just not doing better."
The conference is taking place Wednesday through Saturday at the Westin Bonaventure in downtown LA.