Drug Legalization

What Gary Johnson Should Have Said About Heroin

The Libertarian presidential nominee missed an opportunity to make a moral case against prohibition.



A Libertarian running for president, especially one strongly identified with marijuana legalization, should expect to be questioned about the merits of extending that policy to heroin. But when the question was posed during last night's CNN townhall featuring Gary Johnson and his running mate, William Weld, neither candidate was willing to defend the principle that the government has no business dictating to people which psychoactive substances they may consume. In my latest Forbes column, I argue that Johnson missed an opportunity to make a moral case against drug prohibition:

During a CNN townhall last night, a member of the audience asked Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for president, about heroin legalization. Although the former New Mexico governor correctly pointed out that prohibition makes heroin use more dangerous, he disclaimed any interest in repealing it, saying his legalization agenda is limited to marijuana. He thereby undercut the utilitarian case against drug prohibition and missed an opportunity to make a moral case for individual freedom.

The Libertarian Party's platform states that "we favor the repeal of all laws creating 'crimes' without victims, such as the use of drugs for medicinal or recreational purposes." Johnson therefore was deviating from the party line when he declared that "we are not espousing the legalization of any drugs outside of marijuana." That was the easy way out, since most Americans recognize that marijuana is less hazardous than alcohol and think it should be legal. But what is the point of a Libertarian presidential campaign if it does not encourage voters to think about public policy issues in a more consistent and principled way?

Read the whole thing.

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  1. What Gary Johnson Should Have Said About Heroin

    Almost anything is better than what he said.

  2. GayJay’s campaign is as good as OVER.

    The LP fucked up worse than usual with this nominee.

    1. But will still get ten times as many votes as usual.

  3. What he should have said when questioned about the heroine is all the nifty cosplay benefits, especially all those boob popping ones flavoured with Anime inspired cleavage windows. From what I understand, this tack can distract just about any foe!

    In all seriousness though, it really is difficult to overcome the stereotype of the track ridden, scab covered, emaciated junkey. Pot and pills are one thing, but a rather high percentage of people really don’t like needles (at least the patients I have encountered), and have a very visceral aversion to the idea of shooting up since its so unnerving for many people.

    1. *it’s

    2. You don’t need to inject heroin. If it were legal, it would be cheap, and could then be taken in less extreme ways.

      Prohibition makes drugs more potent, but it also makes users try and maximise the drugs efficiency. When’s the last time you heard of someone doing a vodka enema?

    3. The cleavage window was popularized by Ric Estrada and Wally Wood. They put one on Power Girl (the Earth-2 Supergirl analogue in the Justice Society of America,) back in All-Star Comics #58 Jan-Feb issue, 1976, released in October, 1975. this is like giving the Japanese the credit for the quality control movement, instead of Dr Deming!

      Some people attribute the “boob window” to Matt Baker’s late 1940s version of Quality’s Phantom Lady (when published by Fox,) but that was just a deep cleavage outfit with a cape on a cord around her neck. – Kevin R

  4. He should have said ‘Drugs are bad m’kay?’ and then ask for a scooby-snack in Shaggy’s voice while giggling.

  5. IIRC, the lady that asked the question led off with a story about how her son had tried just ONE line of heroin and it left him in a wheelchair. Now they go around the country warning about the dangers of drugs. Gary should’ve answered her question with a question, “So, would putting your son in prison on a felony charge have made the situation better?” Sorry for your loss lady, but take your morality crusade elsewhere.

    1. Yeah, bad things happen when drugs are illegal. When they are legal, the product is safer, prices are lower, crime is reduced, and it’s easier to get help for addiction.

  6. 1st Johnson and Weld aren’t true Libertarians. 2nd would you have him tell an angry mother that her son made a personal choice and he should except the consequences of his choices. The reason for the results is because heroine is illegal. When women were forced to have abortions in back rooms with coat hangers there were often bad result. That was a gotta question which the media would have had a field day with. The real answer should have been ” M’am I don’t believe in laws against victimless crimes” but our news media would have twisted that until it looked like a pretzel.

    1. How about telling her that legal heroin would likely have prevented her son’s OD because the drug would have been an evaluated and known potency?

      There’s an enormous gulf between “it should be illegal” and “tough shit.”

      1. He basically did say that.

      2. If we legalize it and then deregulate too much, don’t we risk the same problem of the drugs being unknown quality and quantity? After all, at some point, these are people with a serious addiction who seem to be far more concerned with their next fix than having reliable, safe drugs. Characterizing drug addiction as a “personal choice” flies in the face of most of the science on the topic. Perhaps as a sop to the hand-wringers we can pose this as not just a blanket legalization free-for-all, but still something to require considerable regulation, perhaps even going so far as to require a medical professional to sign off on the substance being made available? Right now you have to go to a special dispensary and get someone with an actual doctorate just to get antibiotics, after all.

        1. Antibiotics are one of the few drugs where limiting access has a true public health purpose.

          Most drugs that people like recreationally, including opioids would be very inexpensive if legal. So I don’t think there would be much incentive for anyone to sell poor quality or adulterated drugs in a deregulated market.

        2. A. People buy OTC drugs all of the time and know exactly what quality and quantity they’re getting. The idea that manufacturers of legal heroin would sell low quality product like a street dealer is ludicrous. B. Pure heroin is a very safe drug and virtually impossible to “overdose” on. C. Human beings have used heroin for centuries and many of them were highly productive and creative individuals. Most drug users will quit on their own if and when they perceive that the habit is impeding their well being or happiness. D. The idea that human beings are helpless victims of “addiction” that need the permission of the state and some state surrogate in the person of a “medical professional” is just more of the statist crap that brought us prohibition to begin with. I think maybe you’re on the wrong website.

          1. You still get kids harming themselves drinking alcohol irresponsibly when they are underage. Every kid in my high school knew you could make stump wine from putting fruit juice out in the cold and letting it naturally ferment. Most of us also knew if you didn’t do it right you could poison yourself. I never attempted it, but I drank some my buddy made. It was OK, but it had to be doctored with sugar.

            Why did we bother? We were under 18, and couldn’t by Boone’s Farm or beer. Even if heroin were legal, no pol, even a libertarian, is going to run on legal drugs with no minimum purchase age. This question was a red herring, and if anyone but the dead kid’s mother asked it, it could have been easily shot down.

  7. “Lady I’m sorry for your families loss. Whether you agree with drug legalization, or not. I implore you to support Good Samaritian laws that allow family members, and complete strangers help out when these things happen, without legal repercussions.”

    Something like this maybe ?

    Sympathy for the victim, a “Do Something” law, charity, and it casts a bit of doubt on our current drug policies, all rolled into a two sentences.

    1. Added benefit. You mention something biblical. You cast a small net into socon waters.

  8. Truth is that saying Heroine should be legal is political suicide. I wish it wasn’t so, but that’s the way it is. If drugs are ever to be legalized we’re going to have to do it incrementally and point out the success of each law after implemented to justify the next.

    1. I think decriminalizing the harder drugs is the right thing to do without making them entirely legal. You’re going to have to talk down all the idiots who are on a moral crusade and explain carefully why the criminal justice system is the wrong way to deal with actually dangerous substances.

      1. Pointing out that their crusade hasn’t worked is the first step.

    2. The irony is that throughout history prohibition was overcome not by legislation, but by people willfully breaking those laws. Only then, after much strife, do the laws change to reflect the reality. Portugal decided to decriminalized all drugs across the board having running out of options and essentially hitting rock-bottom, politically and socially speaking after pursuing hard-line and harder-line strategy.

      Alcohol prohibition was quickly overcome this way in the US and MJ finally became more acceptable in this way. And for the same reason, I don’t think heroin would ever become legal on its own in the US.

    3. This.

      If Gary Johnson had said he wanted to legalize heroin, we’d all be in here decrying what a nutcase he sounded like.

      1. Ron Paul said it in a Republican debate on national TV. His following and political influence increased afterward.

        1. It helped that he’s a MD saying that.

        2. Which is why he went on to sweep the primaries, win the nomination, and is now President of the United States.

          Wait… that didn’t happen? Huh. Hard to believe with that huge, heroin related following increase. But at least they take him seriously today, right? And by “they” I mean people who respond to infomercials, not anyone in a position of power.

    4. If drugs are ever to be legalized, we should continue to loudly and clearly state the moral, utilitarian and practical benefits to doing so. People aren’t morons. They’re just led by morons.

  9. Come on guys, Heroin ??

    Guys, let’s Keep Dope Live, but not Heroin.

    If I were King of America, I would destroy the criminal enterprise that runs it and destroy the partnership that this criminal enterprise has with the police. I would give the Heroin away for FREE and offer Oxycodone as an alternative to those that want to get off.

    Once you start shooting heroin, you are no longer doing it for the recreation of getting high. You are doing it to avoid the withdrawals. I would offer Oxycodone to the addicts for FREE, offer counselling, and try to help my fellow man who’s addicted to this thing kick the habit. If they have a relapse, I’ll help them. I would pass laws that would forbid the government or anyone from taking the children away from addicts. I would pass laws forbidding employers from firing people just because they test positive for drugs.

    I’m against prohibition. But Heroin is a special case.

    1. Then you aren’t against prohibition.

      I’ve known a number of heroin users who were fairly close to me. They are definitely still getting high after they are addicted. Avoiding withdrawals is part of what keeps the habit going, but getting high is still the main thing. Relapses don’t happen because of withdrawal symptoms. They happen because people want to get high.

    2. People inject heroin BECAUSE its illegal. You know heroin is basically the same as morphine, right? Anyone who gets major surgery has to take it. I’ve been a morphine “addict” three times after surgery, and the withdrawals are hugely overblown. One week of nausea and irritability and your done.

      1. Interesting. I’ve been on morphine after major surgery and had no withdrawal at all. Both times I was up and walking around within 24 hours, and had stopped taking it within 3 days.

        I’m starting to think that men must be pussies when it comes to pain sensitivity. Women get kicked out of the hospital within 3 days of a C-section, and are given a 2 week supply of morphine, which mostly doesn’t get used. How the hell do you get addicted to morphine within 3 days? And why would you need a 2 week supply if someone can get their belly cut open and walk around without needing it 3 days later?

        1. Women do have higher pain tolerance. Men don’t have to give birth, so there’s an evolutionary reason for that.

    3. No. Heroin is not a special case and it’s safer than Oxycodone. You are just another prohibitionist.

  10. The principle of self ownership – tough one to grasp for some people.

  11. I also wish he would have made the principled argument. But let’s be honest with ourselves. As far as ending prohibition goes, we will probably see pot legalized pretty widely. And maybe decriminalize possession of hard drugs. But legalization of hard drugs just isn’t going to happen outside of limited and very controlled cases. People are fucking idiots and think that if you see something you don’t like, you make a law against it.

  12. What you want to watch out for is the neo-prohibitionist.

    These are folks like MADD. They know that prohibition can’t be argued. But what they do is make it so that you keep alcohol legal but you can’t really drink it without getting arrested.

    I haven’t had a drink since June 15, 2012.

    I use to enjoy a bottle of wine with my wife during a heavy Italian Dinner. We’d even follow it up with one shot of Zambuka and a double-esspresso.

    When I went to Rutgers back in the 80s, I was so drunk that I fell asleep on a bridge in my car. This bridge was between two cities in NJ. The New Brunswick police showed up, called the Rutgers Campus Police. They drove my car to my Dorm, walked me to my room, woke up my roommates, and practically tuck me into bed. No fine, no arrests.

    Today, I would be in the News if I were to share a bottle of wine with my wife.

  13. His best answer would have been that having heroin illegal did not help her son. Making it legal also won’t help her son. Bad individual choices and poor parenting are hard to overcome. Public demand also tends to override prohibition. The government challenge is how to minimize the worst results with the minimum of intrusion into people’s private lives and choices that do not affect the private lives and choices of others.

  14. Actually I think it was probably a wise decision NOT to come out advocating for heroin legalization in response to that question.

    I realize you guys all want to hear a principled (purist) stance on drugs. But we’re talking about his first appearance to a national audience. It would have been insane to advocate legalizing heroin.

    If he want’s to run as a moderate centrist, which is his only chance of winning, he can’t be in favor of legalizing heroin. Sorry people.

    1. But this was not his 1st appearance to a national audience. Remember 2011? And that was broadcast TV, because I never had cable. 2 debates, & he was boring in both. From what I read here, he’s every bit as boring now as he was 5 YA.

  15. Make the moral case and the utilitarian case. Don’t back away from your principles. If you’re worried that people find your ideas too radical, reassure them that Congress isn’t going to legalize heroin anyway.

  16. When you are a candidate, your party has a platform, but the candidates run on a program. It isn’t “everything we believe in,” it’s “here’s what we will try to do if elected.” Bernie Sanders wasn’t calling for the nationalization of all industry, though you know, in his heart of hearts, he’d be up for that. Same for us LPers. Outline a handful of really important things we could do if we got into office. You can’t do it all at once, anyway.

  17. Check out this article about the present state of bills around the US pertaining to the War on Drugs and another overview of the issue. It really gives context to the current state of this war in US legislation.

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