Former NM Gov. Gary Johnson told the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard that he used marijuana for medical purposes from 2005-2008, before his state had passed a medical marijuana law.
Johnson has long portrayed himself as someone who has used marijuana. “I don’t drink. I don’t smoke pot. But I have drank and I have smoked pot,” is a line we’ve personally heard the governor use in stump speeches at the NORML National Conference in Portland, the Seattle Hempfest, and the Cypress Hill Smokeout in San Bernardino, just three of the many pro-marijuana events Johnson has attended in support of his “Our America Initiative”. The Standard interviewed the possible candidate for the Republican nomination for president and became the first journalists to press Johnson on the time frame of his past-tense marijuana references.
“It’s not anything I volunteer, but you’re the only person that actually asked about it,” says Johnson, who governed New Mexico from 1994 to 2002. “But for luck, I guess, I wasn’t arrested.” Although smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes was illegal in New Mexico until 2007, Johnson says he needed the drug following a 2005 paragliding accident in Hawaii. His sails got caught in a tree, he stalled—and fell about fifty feet straight down to the ground, he says. Johnson suffered multiple bone fractures, including a burst fracture to his T12 vertebrae. “In my human experience, it’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”
“Rather than using painkillers, which I have used on occasion before, I did smoke pot, as a result of having broken my back, blowing out both of my knees, breaking ribs, really taking about three years to recover,” Johnson says. He explains that painkillers had once caused him to suffer nasty side effects and the pain of withdrawing from the pills was unbearable. So, Johnson says, in 2005 “someone” who cared for him gave him marijuana to deal with the pain.
The Standard points out that Johnson’s honesty about his illegal medical marijuana use may be a handicap in appealing to Republican primary voters but it may be easier to sell to the typically more-conservative primary voter than his stances on other traditional Republican issues.
NORML is a non-partisan organization but our founder, Keith Stroup, has long counseled cannabis consumers to never vote for a politician that wants to treat us as criminals. The issue of marijuana in presidential politics has been with us ever since Republican Richard Nixon declared drugs “Public Enemy #1”. We’ve seen pot-friendly candidates when Democrat Jimmy Carter called for federal decriminalization of marijuana in the 1976 campaign through Republicans Sen. Mike Gravel and Rep. Ron Paul calling for an end to marijuana prohibition in the 2008 campaign. We’ve seen pot-using candidates like Democrats Bill Clinton (who didn’t inhale), John Kerry, John Edwards, and Al Gore (who admit they inhaled), and Barack Obama (who inhaled, frequently, that was the point) and even Republican George W. Bush (who didn’t want the kids doing what he did).
Gov. Johnson, however, presents us with a potential candidate who is not just pro-decrim like Carter, but actually pro-legalization. A candidate who not only admits he inhaled like Obama but did so just two or three years ago, after his terms as governor of New Mexico. The fact that we can have a major presidential hopeful with a legitimate political chance talking openly about legalization and his recent marijuana use shows just how far we’ve come in forty years of marijuana law reform.