Gary Johnson

Drug War Ringer Pushes Johnson to Explain Reality of Prohibition at Town Hall

Were the Libertarian Party's representatives prepared for the most obvious question?


Gary Johnson

Libertarians: They sure love them drugs, amirite?

When CNN announced a town hall for Gary Johnson and William Weld, Libertarian Party candidates for president and vice president, it was immediately obvious that drug war decriminalization or legalization was going to be the source of at least one question. If people know only one thing about the libertarians, it's generally that they want to legalize weed.

When the question came tonight, it came out of the mouth of drug warrior ringer Maureen Morella. Morella is the mother of a young man who nearly died and is now disabled as a result of a bad reaction to heroin in 2004. She is now an activist traveling the country warning about the dangerous of heroin. Her question was framed under the impression that Johnson was in favor of legalizing all drugs, including heroin, and wondered how would deal with all of the awful things that drugs do to kids.

Johnson and Weld both corrected that they were interested in legalizing marijuana, not all drugs. They were put in a difficult position, of course, of not wanting to dismiss this family's real-world experience. But the reality is that drug war prohibition helped harm her son and that's exactly what Johnson said. Her story can be read here at The New York Times and even though Johnson seemed a bit ambushed when he was formulating his response, the facts seem to validate Johnson. Her son had a toxic reaction because other chemicals had been mixed into the heroin. The dangerous lack of quality control and safety is something that happens in a black market. 

He wasn't the most articulate speaker about a question he must have known was coming, but he did provide examples of how Zurich, Switzerland, and Vancouver have public health programs designed to make sure what happened to Jesse Morella doesn't happen to others and emphasized that they were successful. "No more heroin deaths," he explained. "You wouldn't die of an overdose." Both Johnson and Weld promoted needle exchange programs as a tool of public health protection.

Johnson brought the issue back to marijuana, treating its use as something that should be categorized the same as alcohol, and concluding, "I think others should live their lives the way they see fit. Make your choices as long as you don't do harm to others."

Toward the end, they were asked a question about their attitudes toward Black Lives Matter, and it didn't really go too well. First of all, revoltingly, the question was framed with the idea that libertarians "don't care" about the Black Lives Matter movement, and at one point, host Chris Cuomo repeated this completely inaccurate characterization of libertarian attitudes as a fact. Weld, who had been pretty articulate in presenting facts throughout the town hall, went on a strange tangent about having various "commissions" to discuss the needs and interests by different ethnic groups when he was governor of Massachusetts. Johnson brought it back to discussing how the drug war had victimized minorities. They could have done a better job at challenging the idea that libertarians didn't care about the Black Lives Matter movement and highlighted the libertarian role in pushing for criminal justice reform.

Regardless of whether Johnson and Weld put for the best arguments for the Libertarian Party, their inclusion on CNN is definitely giving the party more attention and interest. Even as the Democratic gun control "sit in" is dominating the news, Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party have ranked as high as third in Google's top trending searches this evening and #LibertarianTownHall is trending on Twitter.