Pubdate: Tue, 05 Oct 1999
Source: Associated Press
Copyright: 1999 Associated Press
Author: Matt Kelley, Associated Press


WASHINGTON (AP) -- Pressed to clarify his views on legalizing drugs, New
Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson said Tuesday he foresees a process that would
start with marijuana.

``I don't see legalization of dangerous drugs any time soon,'' Johnson told
reporters after speaking for drug legalization at the libertarian Cato

Johnson, a Republican in his second term, drew strong criticism from
anti-drug leaders last week when he became the first sitting governor to
advocate legalized narcotics. Johnson said the nation's war on drugs has
been a multibillion-dollar failure that throws too many people in prison.

``I'm not pro-drug here. I'm against drugs,'' Johnson told his Cato
audience. ``Should you go to jail for just doing drugs? I say no. I say you

``Control it. Regulate it. Tax it. If we legalize it, we just might have a
better society.''

White House drug policy director Barry McCaffrey plans to speak Thursday in
Albuquerque in opposition to Johnson's stand.

``The agenda espoused by people like Governor Johnson would put more drugs
into the hands of children and make drugs more available on our nation's
streets,'' McCaffrey said Friday.

Last week, Johnson said he favors legalizing marijuana and heroin. During
discussions this week with groups pressing for changes in drug laws, he has
said that legalizing any drug, along with the correct restrictions, could
cause use of that drug to remain level or decline.

Johnson said he views marijuana -- which he admits he smoked as a young man
- -- as less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol.

``Marijuana is never going to have the devastating effects on us that
alcohol and tobacco have on us,'' Johnson said. ``If marijuana is
legalized, alcohol abuse goes down, because people will have a substance

He said marijuana is the best candidate to be legalized first, followed by
more dangerous drugs such as heroin or cocaine, the other illegal drug
Johnson has admitted having used.

Those dangerous drugs, Johnson said, should have even more restrictions on
their sale and use than marijuana, such as perhaps requiring a doctor's
prescription and being administered in a hospital or clinic.

``I don't want to see it in grocery stores,'' Johnson told reporters. ``I'm
assuming that wouldn't happen. The more dangerous the perception of the
drug, the more control there would be.''

With marijuana, Johnson said he foresees a time when states will regulate
its sale and distribution as they now regulate hard liquor, which some
states restrict to state-owned stores and others allow in private outlets.
The federal or state governments could take over the growing, distributing
and selling, Johnson said.

``If that doesn't decrease drug use, I don't know what will,'' he joked.

Other constraints, Johnson said, should include restricting drug sales to
those over 21 and increasing penalties for crimes committed under the
influence of drugs.

Johnson said public reaction in calls and letters to his office has been
running ``97 to 3'' in favor of his position, but he doubts he could get a
drug legalization measure through the New Mexico legislature.

``As I stand here right now, I don't see that as being possible,'' Johnson
said. ``I see that as a federal issue.'' 
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