Gary Johnson on "Defanging" the DEA, Pardoning Marijuana Offenders, and Standing With Occupy Wall Street


Republican presidential candidate and former two-term governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson held a conference call this afternoon in which he expressed solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, defended President Obama's decision to send advisory troops in response to the Lord's Resistance Army, and promised to pardon nonviolent marijuana offenders. The campaign will release a full transcript later this week. In the meantime, I'm posting a rough transcript I typed up during the call. 

Johnson started the chat by recounting Tuesday night, which he spent in the company of Wall Street occupiers: 

Last night I went to Occupy Wall Street. I wanted to see what was happening down there. It confirmed what I had thought. You got a lot of people outraged over the fact that we have a country that isn't all that fair. it starts with government granting favors, if you will to well-connected groups. And when I say government I mean politicians that grant favoritism to individuals, groups, and corporations that are well connected politically. When it comes to Wall Street, I don't know if there wasn't criminal prosecution because crimes weren't committed. The crimes were that favors were granted. Individuals and banks that made really poor decisions were not rewarded by becoming bankrupt and losing the money that they had. Instead they were bailed out. We paid the cost for that. 

Rather candidly, Johnson admitted that he had signed legislation as governor that benefitted the film industry, a popular form of crony capitalism. Johnson said it was "ironic" that New Mexico could have given tax breaks to every industry in the state, but only did so to help the film industry. "So I'm guilty of that as well." Several bloggers asked Johnson to touch on crony capitalism and Occupy Wall Street at various points in the call. Here are some of the answers Johnson gave:

Corporatism exists in this country. it is real and alive. There is a real awareness [of this] right at the moment that makes change in this country ripe.

I have to express my solidarity with everyone [at Occupy Wall Street] that we have a country that doles it out unfairly. We bailed out banks that made horrific decisions. They should have been rewarded for those decisions by losing their money. We bailed them out at a cost of almost $1 trillion. I'm outraged by that.

[On crony capitalism at the state and municipal levels] You can be a public official and not have that influence what you do in office. I offer myself as an example of not being influenced by any campaign contributions. Yet I fully recognize you are speaking about reality.

I had a dozen conversations last night asking individuals if they could distinguish between capitalism and crony capitalism. How do you spread that truth message? Well, running for president of the United States offers that forum up. Last night, just for the people I was able to talk to, and regardless of where people were on the spectrum–there were communists and socialists all the way up to free market anarchists–it was civil.

The notion that Occupy Wall Street is misguided, well I was there last night. I don't know that it's misguided at all. This country is not equal. We don't treat everyone equally. I would like to see us focus on the root cause, which is in my estimation politicians that are getting paid off. That's the corporatism and the outrage.  

One blogger asked Johnson what he thought of the DOJ letter ordering California's medical marijuana dispensaries to close, and what steps he would take to reform drug policy. First up, Johnson said, would be an executive order removing marijuana from schedule I (the category containing the most highly addictive and harmful drugs). "Because I would be controlling the federal agencies, including the DEA," Johnson said, "I would do everything I can to defang the DEA." Later in the conversation, Johnson was asked if he would issue an executive order pardoning non-violent marijuana offenders. Johnson acknowledged that the U.S. had pardoned nonviolent violators of the Volstead act after the repeal of prohibition, and said, "I think that same thing is called for with legalizing marijuana." 

He called the DOJ letter ordering dispenaries to shut down "Obama's letter," because "the president of the United States controls all the agencies and the attorney general is appointed by the president of the United States." And that despite the coming crackdown, "We have a to celebrate this week with a poll that came out saying that 50 percent of Americans now support legalizing marijuana. We can say now we're on equal footing with those who argue for the status quo." 

The call also touched on the Lord's Resistance Army, campaign finance reform, and energy policy. Here's Johnson on the LRA and Darfur: 

About a year ago Congress authorized action against the Lord's Resistance Army. President Obama signed that legislation. To my understanding this is the worst terrorist group on the planet over the last few decades. They have been responsible for tens of thousands of deaths. Rapes. They are incredibly bad actors. They are a finite group. This really does in my opinion qualify as what you could lable as a humanitarian effort or the United States stepping in to stop a genocide. Congress authorized it, the president said yes, and I would've as president.

It's go in, get the job done period, and get out.

I was opposed to what we're doing in Libya and remain opposed to that. I know that ostensibly was about preventing genocide, but I get the sense we've injected ourselves in a civil war in Libya. It's a country. It's a government. Lord's Resistance Army isn't representative of a government or any government. The only example I can think of for me where this kind of action is warranted is this very action. That isn't to say that Darfur would not be in the same category, but I am not well versed in that.

On campaign finance: 

It should be 100 percent transparency. There should be no contributions coming in the back door that are not reported.

[On super PACs] I absolutely believe the reform that's needed for campaign contributions is 100 percent transparency. Super PACs offer up a way for wealthy individuals and corporations to influence elections without their fingerprints on it. That's not right.

On his three economic promises: 

I promise to submit a balanced budget to Congress in the year 2013. Promising it does not mean they're going to pass it, but that I'm going to submit it. Second promise is I promise to veto legislation where expenses exceed revenue. Well you can say that I can veto all day long, but they're just going to override you. That very well may happen, but spending will eventually go down. Lastly I promise to be a never-ending advocate of reforming our federal tax system and replacing it with the fair tax.

On energy: 

When it comes to oil, we should be responsibly drilling for oil in our own territory. We should be producing 50 percent of what we consume. I'm opposed to cap and trade. I think the number one component to a good environmental policy is good economics….We should be building new coal-fired plants. We're not. That's one of the uncertainties preventing hudreds of thousands of jobs in coal areas. Looking at the green space, at solar, and biofuels–I do not include ethanol in biofuels. The bet in green space is that every five years the green space becomes 100 percent more efficient. That's not happening, that's not even close to happening, but if it were, green space would be providing 15 percent of our energy in 15 years.

As to a free market approach to nuclear facilities, I don't see how we have free market faciilities when no one will underwrite the risk. I suppose I could see government doing that…If we dont have more energy, we're looking to brownouts in the 8-10 year timeframe.

Reason's definitive page on Gary Johnson.