NewsBriefs BUTTONS

New Mexico Governor Johnson 
Calls for Broad Drug Policy Debate


Summer 1999

On June 23, Governor Gary Johnson (R) of New Mexico announced that he wants the nation's drug problems to be at the forefront of public debate, including the possibility of decriminalizing drug use. He said, "The drug problem is getting worse. It's not getting better. . .It needs to get talked about, and one of the things that's going to get talked about is decriminalization" (Loie Fecteau and Michael Coleman, "Gov. Wants To Discuss Legalizing Drug Use," Albuquerque Journal, June 24, 1999).

The governor said he has not formulated a policy or legislative recommendation addressing the matter. At the news conference, Johnson explained, "What I'm trying to do here is launch discussion. . .I think it is the number one problem facing this country today. . .We really need to put all options on the table." Darren White, New Mexico's Public Safety Secretary, said, "We're not going to arrest ourselves out of this drug problem. The governor is absolutely right. We should be looking at other options because our current policy is failing."

On July 1, at a Rotary Club luncheon, Gov. Johnson reported that electronic mail was 10 to 1 in favor of his suggestion that governments consider decriminalizing certain types of drug possession. He used the opportunity to elaborate on possible policy changes. Johnson said that changing the laws regarding possession of marijuana would be a logical "first step" since it is "probably the least dangerous of the identified narcotic drugs that we have" (Rene Romo, "Gov. Says E-mails Support Drug Idea," Albuquerque Journal, July 1, 1999; Associated Press, "Governor says e-mailers favor drug law changes," Hobbs News-Sun, July 2, 1999).

Attorney Steven T. Bunch, president of the New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation, said the governor's contribution to the debate on drugs has aided "mainstream" discussion of changing policy. "He has brought the issue to the public so that it is OK to have this discussion in a rational and thoughtful manner," said Bunch.

On July 5, in response to Gov. Johnson's call for drug reform debate, organizations in New Mexico formed of an alliance to examine alternative options to current drug policies (Rebecca Lopez, "NM Organizations Make Drug Reform Alliance," Albuquerque Journal, July 6, 1999; Associated Press, "Alliance formed to discuss drug options," Hobbs News-Sun, July 7, 1999, p. 3).

On June 27, the Albuquerque Journal hailed Gov. Johnson for calling for honest discussion about U.S. drug policy and not being stuck in conventional thinking. "Prisons are occupied by many petty drug users, while the big traffickers are hard to find and prosecute. Additionally, existing laws are not equitable, the most egregious disparity being the different mandatory sentences established for crack cocaine and powder cocaine" (Editorial, "Discussion Is Overdue On U.S. Drug Problem," Albuquerque Journal, June 27, 1999).

". . .Johnson said what a lot of us have thought for a long time. The nation's war against drugs isn't working." The paper concluded: "What have we got to lose by trying a new approach? Not a thing. The current war on drugs isn't working, against any drug. . .If nothing else, drug decriminalization deserves a serious debate in our nation. It's time `the biggest closet issue in the country today' comes our for a good public airing" (Editorial, "Governor's drug ideas make sense," Hobbs (NM) News-Sun, July 4, 1999, p. 4).

Governor Gary Johnson - State Capitol, 4th Floor, Santa Fe, NM 87503, Tel: (505) 827-3000, Fax: (505) 827-3026, E-mail: <>, Web: <>.

Steven T. Bunch - The New Mexico Drug Policy Foundation, P.O. Box 6994, Albuquerque, NM 87197, Tel: (505) 344-1932, Fax: (505) 344-6716, E-mail: <>, Web: <>.