When I first saw the headline yesterday that former New Mexico Governor and Republican presidential hopeful Gary Johnson had smoked marijuana as recently as 2008, I admit I rolled my eyes. Would his strong pro-reform message be maligned as the predictable position of a pothead-for-president? My concern changed to excitement when I read that he'd used marijuana for pain relief following a horrific paragliding accident:
“Rather than using painkillers, which I have used on occasion before, I did smoke pot, as a result of having broken my back, blowing out both of my knees, breaking ribs, really taking about three years to recover,” Johnson says. He explains that painkillers had once caused him to suffer nasty side effects and the pain of withdrawing from the pills was unbearable. So, Johnson says, in 2005 "someone" who cared for him gave him marijuana to deal with the pain. [Weekly Standard]
The distinction is significant given that leading candidates in the Republican primaries have a rich and hideous history of defending the arrest of medical marijuana patients. McCain, Romney, and Giuliani all took heat during the New Hampshire primaries after viral videos captured their callous positions on medical marijuana. If bad press didn’t teach them a lesson, maybe Gary Johnson will.
Obama's meek support for medical marijuana has been anything but a political liability, earning criticism only from those who'd like to see a more formal federal withdrawal from the war on patients and providers. But that could change when Republicans hit the campaign trail looking for ammunition. Candidates will surely face the question of whether they'd continue Obama's policy of restraint with regards to federal prosecutions in medical marijuana states, and if contradicting state's rights and public opinion were uncomfortable positions for leading Republican candidates before, imagine how they'll feel with an actual patient on stage beside them with a microphone of his own.
Johnson's medical use creates a unique opportunity to bring personal experience into the discussion and powerfully expose the cruelty and ignorance of any opponent who dares to defend arresting sick people. This could play out any number of ways, but if I were Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty, I'd already be worrying about how to handle the situation. When it comes to medical marijuana, Gary Johnson will enter the debate with the American people on his side, and he has everything to gain by going on the offensive early and often.
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