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Then you ask how many believe people should go to jail for selling marijuana. Eighty percent of the room believes people should go to jail for selling marijuana. That’s the disconnect. People think it’s OK to do it as long as you are not doing any harm to anyone, but it’s not OK to sell it. But how are you going to get it? They don’t understand who the pusher is. The pusher is just a user who sells a little bit based on their own habit. Nobody is going to the police department and saying, "This person sold me drugs, and I want them arrested." Everybody is getting arrested because they sold to an undercover agent.
Reason: If you feel that smoking pot—or even selling it— does not make a person a criminal, why not pardon people in New Mexico who are doing time for simple possession?
Johnson: It’s complex. Nobody is in jail on the basis of use. They are in jail on the basis of possession of large amounts of drugs that qualify as trafficking. They are in jail for selling drugs. And it is often attached to property crime. That is where I do draw a line. I have a chance here to change the law. I think that it is OK to launch the discussion and have the debate. But I don’t think it’s right to take it upon myself to pardon convicted criminals based on laws that the population has supported by electing the people that they have elected.
Reason: What about other drugs? I know your model for heroin is similar to the Swiss model.
Johnson: Let’s think about a model that could exist in this country. You are an addict. So maybe you could go to a heroin maintenance program where you could get a prescription for heroin from a doctor. When you went to get your heroin you would have to go to a clinic and actually ingest the heroin at the clinic. I bet it would cost one-tenth of what it costs out on the street. You wouldn’t have AIDS or Hepatitis C, since you wouldn’t use dirty needles. You are not going to have an overdose because the quantity and the impurities are not going to kill you. Since it’s so much cheaper than what’s on the street, you wouldn’t have to engage in crime to pay for it. You wouldn’t have the motivation to recruit other heroin addicts to pay for your own habit.
I think this would be a better situation than what is happening today. There are tens of thousands of heroin addicts with one thing on their mind: Where are they going to get their next fix, and how are they going to pay for it? You and I pay for that every single day.
Reason: What about other drugs that are more popular than heroin? Cocaine, say?
Johnson: I don’t have an answer when it comes to cocaine. I’ve always said that. I am not advocating the legalization of cocaine. I don’t know how you do that.
Reason: Isn’t the parallel to alcohol the same with coke as it is with pot?
Johnson: I’m trying to be reality-based in this. Start off talking about marijuana, start off talking about harm reduction strategies, and start off talking about how to move away from making a cocaine user a criminal. I believe that if you made all drugs legal, just made them over-the-counter—which I’m not advocating—it would be a better situation than we have today. A much better situation than we have today. But I’m not advocating that.
Reason: As you’ve said elsewhere, this issue is a political zero—it doesn’t make you popular or win you votes. So why is it worth your energy?
Johnson: I made a pledge to myself that I am not going to get out of office thinking, "Coulda, shoulda, woulda." This is definitely one of those issues that would be easy not to address because to say anything contrary to the status quo is political suicide. I had my eyes open when I went into this.
Reason: What has been the reaction from other politicians here in New Mexico and elsewhere?
Johnson: The responses in this office—the calls, faxes, letters, e-mails, people coming up to me on the street—is about 95 percent positive. The response from elected officials and those in law enforcement—and I am not talking about the guys on the street: I’m talking about those in charge—has been about 100 percent negative. However, I have been approached by many elected officials who say, "Way to go. This needs to be said. Your position is right. But you are not going to hear that from me in public."
Reason: Why won’t other elected officials speak out?