... conversations with People at the Leading Edgesm


Gov. Gary Johnson

    ... historical fiction writer. Internationally acclaimed for his "Richard Sharpe" series, the Grail Quest series, the Nathaniel Starbuck Chronicles, the Warlord Trilogy and many other novels including Redcoat, Stonehenge, and Gallows Thief, Mr. Cornwell has begun a new series. In The Last Kingdom, he begins the adventures of Saxon/English King Alfred the Great, to whose time Mr. Cornwell trace his own Northumbrian family roots. He and his wife live on Cape Cod, MA.


at War with Ourselves

America's war on drugs is lost, declares New Mexico's Governor, Gary E. Johnson. The target of that war is now ordinary citizens, he believes. He's eager for us all to see how dishonest, ineffective and discriminatory today's policies are. (Currently, odds are 7 to 1 that the person arrested and serving time for having and using drugs is anybody except a middle class white American. They use the stuff, but they're not the ones going to jail for it.)

Don't do drugs! exclaims Gov. Johnson. But if you do drugs that harm only yourself, should you go to jail? His answer: "No." That's a health issue, he contends, not a criminal one. What's criminal and always will be is to do drugs, then harm someone or cause property damage. That's different.

Americans, he's found, are beginning to seek new answers while politicians reject obvious ones like his: Adopt harm-reduction strategies so that people plagued by drug-related problems get help instead of punishment. Perhaps legalize marijuana. Put an end to our modern version of Prohibition. And every governor in America faces the same enormous problems. Half of every state's resources are being spent on law enforcement, the courts and prisons. At least half of all prisoners have drug-related problems. So why not help these people instead of incarcerating them?

80,000,000 Americans have used illegal drugs. Governor Johnson -- an avid triathelete who today abstains even from alcohol -- used to smoke marijuana but didn't get caught. Yes, our policies corrupt society, agrees Gov. Johnson, but that's not his thrust. He bases his arguments on harsh realities: Êviolent and property crime; the spread of Hepatitis-C and HIV; overdose deaths; our growing economic dependence on the ever-increasing need for jails in which to house non-violent criminals.

Politicians follow, Gov. Johnson reminds us. And we don't have to start from scratch. Successful models exist. In Zurich, Switzerland, even the Chief of Police brags about the positive effects of decriminalizing heroin. (Heroin is administered free to addicts, in clinics.) In Holland, where marijuana is legal, drug use is 60% lower than in America.

While Governor Johnson agrees that corruption is the silent partner of today's policies, he sticks to what he considers a reality-based argument. Americans use harmful drugs that kill them. That includes tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs, all of which kill in grossly larger numbers than cocaine or heroin. Our demand for drugs keeps the supply coming. So deal with the health issues of drugs we now declare illegal, he urges. Look again at the failed federal drug-related policies. Reclaim the massive resources we now lose. Focus on rehabilitation, education, and treatment -- health issues, not legal ones.

Everyone knows who profited from Prohibition in the 1920's. Isn't it time America re-learned those lessons?

[This Program was recorded March 12, 2001 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S.]



Conversation 1




Gov. Gary Johnson defines "insanity" and applies the word to America's drug policy. "Don't Do Drugs," Gov. Johnson urges, then declares America's War on Drugs a miserable failure. He distinguishes personal from criminal behavior. He describes Zurich, Switzerland's success decriminalizing heroin and Holland's success legalizing marijuana. He suggests alternative ways to assess the impact of drugs. Assuring us that both Republicans and Democrats have strong internal divisions about drug policy, Gov. Johnson describes the profound and far-reaching effects of today's laws. The electorate substantially supports his legislative drug program in New Mexico, Governor Johnson reports, and talks about the 80,000,000 Americans who have smoked marijuana. He declares we now have a war NOT on drugs, but on ordinary citizens. He lists many of the issues directly related to the criminalization of drugs.

Conversation 2




Governor Johnson notes that 50% of state and federal prisoners have a drug-related problem. He assures us that most problems are prohibition-related -- not use-related -- and expands, explaining the economics of prohibition. Gov. Johnson frames the alarming dimensions of problems which face every governor in the nation. He describes the international implications, detailing how more cocaine now comes into America than ever before. The supply problem is directly linked to America's demand for these drugs, he points out, and draws an analogy to illustrate how current policies cause current problems. He expands on his own sense of mission in politics and suggests what he thinks brought down (alcohol's) Prohibition.

Conversation 3




In the year 2000, there were 1,600,000 people arrested in the U.S. on drug-related crimes, Governor Johnson reports, offering statistics about how dramatically people of color are discriminated against in the enforcement of current laws. $50 billion dollars are spent every year enforcing current policies, he says, and suggests better allocation of those resources. He reiterates that doing physical harm to a person or property is and always should be criminal. He describes and explains "asset forfeiture," alarmed that we have given up Constitutional rights in the name of the War on Drugs. He gives examples and details what he would do if given a magic wand. He reiterates why he believes the drug issue should be a health issue, not a criminal justice one. He compares the dramatically different health consequences of tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs and cocaine/heroin. While agreeing that social corruption accompanies current policies, Gov. Johnson summarizes his own, different approach.

Conversation 4




The attitudes of citizens are dramatically different from those of elected officials, says Gov. Johnson, claiming surprisingly strong support. He assures us, "Politicians Follow," and explains. He holds out hope of a growing consensus among politicians that current policies must change because they don't work. Declaring drugs the biggest head-in-the-sand issue in the world today, Gov. Johnson describes the package of modest bills he took to the New Mexico Legislature and what he thinks these laws will accomplish. He assures us America will change its policies but wonders how long it will take. He characterizes how he believes Republicans and Democrats have approached similar issues, then summarizes.


Related Links:

To learn more about Governor Johnson and the State of New Mexico, visit the Governor's website
There you will also find detailed information about Governor Johnson's Drug Policy Reform. At the website, you can retrieve complete (legislative and other) documents in their original format.

And, here's a little background information on Paula Gordon and Bill Russell, the Program co-hosts.



Governor Johnson very graciously carved out time to talk with us in the midst of a hectic legislative season. It's a testament to the passion he brings to this important public policy issue. We thank him for his leadership and his willingness to look beyond what is politically expedient toward a common good.

Diane Kinderwater, Press Secretary for Governor Johnson, was extraordinarily helpful in making this program possible. Her professionalism is exemplary and we are particularly grateful, given the grave importance of this subject.

This program has a bit history of its own. The first time we tried to record was May 10, 2000. On that day, Ms. Kinderwater greeted us in the Governor's foyer with the alarming news, "Los Alamos is burning!" We are delighted no such catastrophe came between us and the Governor the second time around, when Ms. Kinderwater went above and beyond the call of duty to find time for us in the midst of the Governor's busy legislative schedule.



Quick buttons

© 2007  The Paula Gordon Show.
All materials contained on this website are copyrighted by The Paula Gordon Show and may not be used for any commercial purpose without the express, written consent of Paula Gordon.  Non-commercial use is permitted and encouraged provided that credit is given to The Paula Gordon Show, appropriate urls cited, links are provided where possible and meaning is not altered by editing.