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New Mexico Governor Leads Nation Toward Drug Law Reform

Republican Schism In New Mexico May Scuttle Drug Reform Efforts

Some of Governor Johnson's drug reform measures may have hit a roadblock in the state legislature. As the Albuquerque Journal reported on January 29, 2002 ( "Governor's Decriminalization Bill Stalls In House"), "A proposal to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana ran into a dead end Tuesday in a House committee. The Consumer and Public Affairs Committee shelved the proposal on a unanimous voice vote. Supporters acknowledged that the measure probably was dead for the 30- day session - a victim partly of election year pressures in the Legislature. All 70 House seats are up for election this year."

The main objection seems to lie in assertions by an opposition group that the medical marijuana and drug treatment measures will open the door for future efforts to legalize narcotics. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported on Feb. 6, 2002 ( "Republicans Feud Over Drug-Reform Legislation") that according to Rep. Ron Godbey, "the current drug-reform legislation 'is part of an incremental attempt to legalize drugs one step at a time.' The bills aimed at allowing the use of prescription marijuana for medical purposes ( SB8 ) and removing criminal sanctions for the possession of small amounts of pot ( HB25 ) 'would not legalize heroin and cocaine - just toking marijuana ... but ( reform advocates will ) be back next year,' Godbey said. A fierce opponent of drug reform, Godbey also said a third drug-reform bill ( SB331 ) making treatment instead of incarceration mandatory for first-time nonviolent offenders 'is a subtle way to legalize heroin and cocaine' because it removes the sanction of jail time for users of those drugs."

Still, many in New Mexico support Governor Johnson and his reforms. As the Albuquerque Tribune editorialized on February 5, 2002 ( "Legislature Should Pass Marijuana Bills"), "In spite of efforts to characterize the reforms as dangerous and at odds with the national 'war on drugs,' the reforms are reasonable and overdue. They moderate harsh drug policies which the evidence shows have been ineffective, unnecessarily punitive, discriminatory and costly to the state, the nation and people. While the local perception is that New Mexico is radically leading the way in national drug reform - perhaps because of the governor's efforts to jump-start a broad national debate on this issue - the reality is that lawmakers are considering only careful reforms already endorsed by several states."

Governor Gary Johnson Debates DEA Chief Asa Hutchinson

(The debate between Governor Johnson and DEA Administrator Hutchinson is posted online by The Justice Talking Show. To listen to streaming audio of the debate, as well as check out some of their other resources, Click Here.)

As reported in the Albuquerque Journal on Sept. 11, 2001 ("Johnson, DEA Talk Dope"), "Two baby boomer guys, children of the 1960s, got together in Albuquerque on Monday to talk about drugs. But Gary Johnson, New Mexico's governor, and Asa Hutchinson, administrator of the nation's Drug Enforcement Administration - both trim Republicans with blue suits and conservative haircuts - could not have been farther apart on the direction the country's drug policies should take. In an hourlong national radio debate, Johnson, a 48-year-old former pot smoker, hammered home the message that has become his crusade: Marijuana is not as harmful as alcohol and government resources are wasted in arresting and jailing pot smokers who otherwise do not break the law."

A partial transcript of the debate as broadcast on NPR is available by clicking here.

Governor Gary Johnson Appears At Lindesmith-Drug Policy Foundation Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico

The Republican governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson, appeared at the 14th annual international drug policy conference held in Albuquerque, NM, sponsored by the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation.

The Albuquerque Journal reported on June 2, 2001 ( "Hundreds Cheer Governor's Drug-Reform Stance") that:
"The Republican was the keynote speaker on the final day of the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation international conference.
"The organization -- which is working toward drug reform and policy based on 'public health, science, common sense and human rights' -- met in Albuquerque this past week. About 700 people attended the meeting. Its theme was 'Drug Policies for the New Millennium.'
"Johnson during his second term has pushed for drug reform, including the legalization of marijuana, describing the national war on drugs as 'a miserable failure.'"

Governor Gary Johnson Appears At NORML Conference, Makes Several Appearances On National Media Over April 20 Weekend

Governor Gary Johnson was a keynote speaker at the national NORML conference in Washington, DC April 19-21, 2001 ( "Governor Rouses Choir With Drug Stand," Albuquerque (NM) Tribune, April 19, 2001). In addition to his appearance there, Governor Johnson made the rounds of Washington's political talk shows, including:

  • Meet The Press
  • CNN Crossfire
  • Hardball with Chris Matthews
  • Fox News Hannity & Colmes Show
  • Governor Makes Case For Reform, Picks Up Support; Legislature Approves Part Of Package

    Governor Gary Johnson's drug policy reform efforts picked up a surprise endorsement from another noted Republican politician, former Secretary of State George Schultz. According to the Associated Press on Wednesday, March 14 ( "Johnson Gets Lofty Support For Drug Policy Reform Plans"), "The governor said Schultz, who served under President Reagan, told him they shared the view that the war on drugs had been a failure."

    Major Portions Of Drug Reform Package Clear Legislature

    The Albuquerque Journal reported on March 19, 2001 ( "Drug-Policy Reform Gained Ground A Little Bit This Year, Advocates Say"), advocates for drug law change "won a trio of bills in the Roundhouse this session. And other bills, including one to allow marijuana for medical use, came within a hair's-breadth of becoming law."

    Legislation to increase funding for treatment and drug-abuse prevention by $10 million was approved in this session, as well as a bill that would make Naloxone, a medicine to reverse heroin overdoses, more available, and a bill allowing "pharmacists to sell syringes to anyone, even if they appear to be a heroin addict," Reform advocates hailed these victories, and look forward to further legislative efforts. According to Katharine Huffman, director of the Lindesmith-DPF's New Mexico office, "What happened in New Mexico is definitely a model of a comprehensive strategy."

    The medical marijuana bill failed to pass before the session ended. Earlier in the session, a state-wide poll showed "overwhelming support for decriminalizing marijuana and making 'medical marijuana' legal for certain patients, according to a report in The Santa Fe New Mexican.

    • 78 percent of registered NM voters support allowing medical marijuana
    • 65 percent support a proposal to make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana a civil infraction
    • 63 percent support a proposal to send people to drug treatment rather than prison for first and second offenses of possession of heroin or cocaine.

    The full set of poll results can be found at this webpage.

    Governor's Reform Efforts Get National Attention

    National news media seem to be paying attention to the trend at the state level to rethink harsh policies and move toward reform. Governor Johnson recently debated former Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey on CNN's CNN Inside Politics on March 21, 2001. As reported by the Albuquerque Journal ("CNN Lets Drug Foes Go At It"), Governor Johnson disputed Mr. McCaffrey's assertion that the country is "moving in the right direction", saying "By no figment of the imagination is this something we're winning. This is a war against ourselves." On another recent CNN program, CNN Live Today also on March 21, Governor Johnson debated another drug war proponent, Betsy Glick of the Anti-Drug Coalitions of America ("Is America's War On Drugs A Failure?").

    Earlier in the year, Governor Johnson appeared on the CNN News program The Spin Room to discuss drug policy issues (to view a complete transcript of the program click here). On the program, the Governor pointed to Holland as a country with rational drug policies. Governor Johnson articulated this position on US drug policy:
    "The government should start to adopt harm reduction strategies, and these harm reduction strategies -- so, you know, what we're trying to start out here on small steps. Do you want to kill a heroin addict, or do you want to save their life first and then you want to try to get them off heroin?"

    Governor Johnson also appeared on the ABC News program Nightline at the end of January 2001 to discuss drug law reform. And, the Christian Science Monitor noted in its February 6, 2001 issue that "A quiet revolution is brewing that could transform the nation's approach to dealing with illicit drug use. And some of the leading rebels, and newest converts, are state-level Republicans."

    Back in 2000, Governor Johnson (R-NM) appointed a Drug Policy Advisory Group to examine drug policy in New Mexico, and also come up with policy ideas for the state.

    The report was issued in January of 2001 (a PDF copy of the report can be downloaded directly by clicking here).

    Search the MAP news archive for stories on Governor Johnson, including this excellent profile by Matthew Miller, "He Just Said No To The Drug War" published in the New York Times Magazine in August 2000.

    Previous CSDP updates on New Mexico's move toward drug policy reform are available by clicking here: New Mexico Drug Panel Report and Legislation Moves Through New Mexico Legislature.

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    copyright © 2001, Common Sense for Drug Policy,
    Kevin B. Zeese, President -- Mike Gray, Chairman -- Robert E. Field, Co-Chairman -- Melvin R. Allen, Director -- Doug McVay, Editor & Research Director
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