Yesterday, Ron Paul joined the Republican presidential field, which means there are now two candidates -- the other being former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson -- outspokenly opposed to the war on drugs and in favor of either decriminalizing or legalizing marijuana. Pot smokers heavily favored Barack Obama in the 2008, believing he'd end DEA raids on dispensaries and might legalize medical marijuana. But the action this cycle is all on the Republican side. Will pot smokers switch parties? I called the editors of High Times magazine to take their pulse, and convinced them to conduct a quick Johnson-Paul Republican straw poll (results below).
When I was reporting a story on California's pot-legalization initiatives in 2008, everybody had up those Obama HOPE posters. How do you guys feel about him today?
Dan Skye, executive editor: I don't think Obama has been helpful at all to the medical-marijuana movement. There was a statement by Attorney General Eric Holder early in his term where he said as long as dispensaries were compliant with their state regulations they would not be visited by the DEA. But there have been a number of instances where the DEA has gone after dispensaries throughout California. It hasn't stopped. The law itself has to be changed at the federal level. But this is not on Obama's agenda, apparently.
Well, now you've got Ron Paul and Gary Johnson. Are you surprised that there are two Republicans running who support your positions?
No, just looking at the amount of tax dollars we spend on prosecuting the war on marijuana, it's is just ridiculous.
So is it mainly a deficit issue? Or do Republicans also view it as a medical issue?
Absolutely. I think there's an understanding of marijuana's medical value. When Gary Johnson spoke at the [High Times] Denver Medical Cup, our medical marijuana rally earlier this month, he knew that his audience was there. He spoke at 4:20 -- if you know what that means -- on Sunday at our trade show. There was a very prominent medication area. So he knew full who he was speaking to. I think politicians really can reap something if they go after this voting block. This is a completely disorganized group of people.
So how does the discerning pot smoker choose between Johnson and Paul?
You know what, let me put you in touch with our senior editor, Bobby Black, who just interviewed Johnson.
Ok. [Pause.] Bobbly, does it surprise you that two guys running for president -- two Republicans -- are solid on this issue?
Bobby Black, Senior Editor: I know Paul thinks the drug war is stupid and wants to end it, but I'm more familiar with Gov. Johnson, who I just interviewed for an upcoming piece. He is pro-legalization. That's partly from a financial standpoint: he basically says half of what we spend on law enforcement and prisons is for victimless, non-violent crimes, which he thinks is a waste of resources. But he also feels it's an infringement on our civil liberties, and as a libertarian-minded candidate he feels it's not the government's business what you do with your body, and as long as you're not harming other people, selling to underage people, or operating a vehicle while under the influence, then it should be your business, not the government's, what you choose to ingest. He also says if elected president he would fully legalize and regulate marijuana. He also has stated that he'd immediately issue a pardon for all people current in prison for non-violent marijuana consensus, let them out of prison. That's a very compelling argument to win the votes of the demographic you're talking about.
Sounds like he's about as solid on this issue as any national politician could be.
He absolutely is. He is the most pro-pot candidate in the field, for sure. And he also said to me he believes that once marijuana was legal, we'd see how that policy goes, and he'd favor harm-reduction strategy for other drugs as well. Not full legalization, but viewing them as a health issue rather than a criminal issue. But he believes the way that will happen is through the state. He's a firm believer in states rights. He believes if the federal government would get out of the way, certain states would eventually vote to legalize marijuana.
Are pot smokers politically active? And are they registered Republicans?
I'm a registered Democrat.
Can you even vote in a Republican primary?
I can't vote in a Republican primary, no. But I would seriously consider switching parties to vote for Johnson.
How do people in the pot community feel about Ron Paul? He's got some cred, no?
My feeling on it, and I'm only speaking from a subjective perspective, is that Gary Johnson is far more electable and not as easily marginalized as Ron Paul. Because Ron Paul tends to come off as a little wacky, as a little bit of a kook. I'm not saying I agree with that, but that's how he was portrayed in last presidential election. Johnson is a little more likable, down to earth, younger, a little better looking, quite frankly. He's a lot more palatable and reasonable.
Interesting that you view Johnson as more electable, I hadn't thought of it from that angle.
Well, also what hurts Ron Paul is his son, honestly, because Rand Paul is even wackier than he is. As a Tea Partier, I've seen him say some pretty extreme things. I think Gary Johnson comes across as more sensible and mainstream. Right now, obviously, he's not polling very high, and in fact, I haven't seen him mentioned in any of the polls. But I know he did well in the CPAC straw poll and one of the other conservative convention polls. So I think for true conservatives and libertarians he's appealing. And I think for the pot-smoker demographic, too, he's popular because he's the only candidate coming out and taking a really strong stance on it.
So who's more popular in the High Times editorial offices, Johnson or Paul?
You know, I haven't really taken a straw poll.
Would you do a quick one of your colleagues?
An hour later, Black shared the verdict: Johnson 9, Paul 1, Undecided 2. He added: "Out of 12 HT staffers polled, 9 would choose Gary Johnson over Ron Paul for the nomination and/or presidency. Two were undecided, and one chose Paul. Reasons given included that he was younger, more electable, even Kennedy-esque. Ron Paul was viewed by three staffers as a 'nut,' with one staffer even joking that if Paul was elected he'd be so scared that he'd get himself a bunker. Actually, the one person who chose Paul did so because he said he identified with him being a more radical, kooky candidate."
Joshua Green is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.