By Lucia Graves | Published in HuffingtonPost.com
GOP presidential candidate Gary Johnson says he would consider issuing a full presidential pardon for anyone serving a prison sentence for marijuana.
Asked in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday if he’d consider pardoning all nonviolent marijuana offenders currently serving a prison sentence, Johnson replied, “Yes.”
The position is part of what he calls a “rational drug policy,” ThinkProgress’ Alex Seitz-Wald first reports, “which starts with looking at the drug problem or the drug issue first as a health issue rather [than] a criminal justice issue.”
With around 800,000 arrests made annually by state-level officials for marijuana offenses, a presidential pardon might not be the most practical solution, but it is, Johnson has argued, a politically viable one. Along with Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whom he endorsed in 2008, Johnson is an unabashed libertarian, and he has said repeatedly that legalizing marijuana is a popular stance when it comes to electoral politics.
“Pot smokers may be the largest untapped voting bloc in the country,” he said in an interview with Outside Magazine. “A hundred million Americans have smoked marijuana. You think they want to be considered criminals?”
The former New Mexico governor has been open with the media about his own experiences smoking pot. After a paragliding accident in 2005, Johnson told The 420 Times that “marijuana really helped [him] deal” with the pain, and in an interview with The New Republic he joked, “I never exhaled.”
That he garners less than 1 percent of the vote in national polls and has been excluded from several presidential debates doesn’t help his argument for political viability, but such assertions are not the only reason to think that marijuana legalization is gaining traction as a serious political issue.
A record-high 50 percent of Americans favor legalizing marijuana, according to a Gallup poll released on Monday. And those numbers, up from just 36 percent in 2006, could have significant implications for state and federal marijuana policy.
“Where is the political leadership that should be reflecting that common sense belief?” asked Johnson in a statement after the poll results were released. “This may be the only issue on the national scene where half the American people support something, but zero percent, statistically speaking, of elected officials and politicians will publicly agree with them.”
Support has spiked in the past five years, with 40 percent of respondents favoring legalization in 2009 before numbers jumped another 10 percent, according to the annual crime survey conducted Oct. 6-9, with majorities of men, liberals and 18- to 29-year-olds currently supporting the legalization of cannabis.
Such results have people talking about how, if current trends continue, legalizing medical marijuana could be a presidential campaign issue as soon as 2016.
“The fact that presidential candidates are now actively pointing out the need to end marijuana prohibition, combined with the new Gallup poll showing that more Americans support legalization than oppose it, shows that the time for reform has arrived,” said Tom Angell, spokesman for legalization advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, on whose advisory board Johnson serves.
The poll numbers come as federal prosecutors are cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries in California, vowing to shutter state-licensed marijuana shops regulated by local governments and threatening landlords with property seizures.
Johnson decried the federal crackdown on pot dispensaries on Wednesday’s call, telling reporters that Obama broke campaign promises to maintain a hands-off approach toward pot clinics that adhere to state law, and that the crackdown “makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.”
HuffPost reported on Sunday that the decision to initiate enforcement actions on medical pot establishments was a collective decision by four U.S. attorneys in California and not the result of any directive from Washington, according to a spokesman for California-based U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
But some legalization advocates remain incredulous.
“I don’t believe that for a second,” said Steve De Angelo, executive director of Harborside, when told federal prosecutors said the decision for a crackdown was made in California. “The recent actions by the U.S. attorneys in California are part of what appears to be a coordinated multi-agency assault by the federal government on the entire medical cannabis community, and that assault seems to be directed at systems of regulated and licensed systems of cultivation and distribution.”