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Monday, November 5, 2012

In Colorado, Marijuana Candidate Gary Johnson Aims to Be Obama's Nader

Posted By on Mon, Nov 5, 2012 at 7:16 AM

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During his two terms as New Mexico governor, Gary Johnson was best known for two things: vetoing nearly half of the bills that reached his desk, and advocating for marijuana legalization.

Now, as the Libertarian candidate for president and man of the hour for bereft marijuana-minded voters, Johnson is angling to become forever known as the Ralph Nader of 2012 -- the third-party spoiler who ruined a major-party candidate's chance at the White House.

Republicans have to date appeared most fearful of Johnson: GOP operatives sued to keep him off of the ballot in some states, and the media's run with the risk-to-Romney storyline. But in swing state Colorado, Johnson's campaign is running robocalls that call out President Barack Obama for allowing his Justice Department to shut down state-legal cannabis dispensaries. This is a move aimed at liberals and the youth, both of who will vote on a marijuana legalization measure Tuesday.

Johnson's been on point across the country, in speeches and in interviews, claiming a vote for Obama or Romney is a wasted vote. More liberal than Obama on civil liberties and more conservative than Romney on the budget, Johnson doesn't care who wins tomorrow. Either way, the American public will know how similar the two mainstream parties are, he says.

This narrative hits medical marijuana supporters hard. After all, it was Obama who promised on the campaign trail that he'd respect states' rights on medical marijuana -- a promised echoed by Attorney General Eric Holder until federal prosecutors started shutting down countless cannabis dispensaries in California, Colorado, Montana, Michigan, and elsewhere.

Colorado presents a peculiar pickle for the state's Democrats and Republicans -- both are loath to become known as the hanging chads of their day. The state is traditionally in favor of small government, but voted for Obama in 2008, and voters will decide on a marijuana legalization measure, Amendment 64, which is opposed by Democrats and backed by some Republicans.

In short, it's a hot mess.

"We have a natural fit with Colorado," Johnson said in an interview with Businessweek. "I embrace the notion of being a spoiler." 

To hear Johnson say he's out to spoil either candidate is balm for a third-party supporter; but Johnson's robocalls in Colorado -- which is, according to most polls, at a dead-even heat between Democrats and Republicans -- seem aimed at winning over the same young vote that's expected to turn out for that state's marijuana-legalization measure Tuesday.

"In 2008, candidate Obama promised not to use the Justice Department to prosecute medical marijuana in states where it was legal," the robocall says, according to the Christian Science Monitor. "But the real Obama did just that, more than doubling prosecutions, putting people in prisons and shutting down medical marijuana facilities in Colorado. That's not the change you wanted on health freedom. But you can still be a force for hope and change by voting for Gary Johnson."

It seems unlikely that a Romney supporter, hearing that message, will cast their vote for Johnson. And that's fine with him, but it will likely not be good for marijuana supporters.

As bad as Obama may have been, reluctant supporters of the president tend to agree that Romney would be much, much worse. 

"The choice between Obama and Romney on this issue," the Drug Policy Alliance's Ethan Nadelmann said, "is the choice between a disappointment and a disaster." And with each robocall, Johnson is steering cannabis advocates further toward the iceberg.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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