When New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson walked into a Marvin Center meeting room Monday, tie-dyed shirts and Birkenstocks were nowhere to be found.
“I was surprised when I walked into this room that I didn’t see tie-dye, incense and the Grateful Dead playing in the background,” said Darren White, secretary of the Department of Public Safety in New Mexico, to the students gathered in the room. “I don’t see a single person here that fits that image.”
Instead, the politician who has made headlines with his controversial drug decriminalization policy saw people in business suits.
Johnson, a Republican, said he sees young people as an important element in the fight against the war on drugs and would like to help Students for a Sensible Drug Policy spread the word about the decriminalization of drugs. The governor said events that SSDP organizes, like the national conference that GW’s chapter of SSDP will host, help the public gain awareness.
Johnson said one of the most important messages he thinks supporters of this cause need to convey is that they are not “hippies” or “pot-heads.” When people begin to take them seriously, they will be able to see change, he said.
Johnson said using drugs was a bad choice for him. But he added that no one should be jailed for using chemical substances.
“In college I didn’t experiment with marijuana, I did marijuana,” he said. “It’s just something I did. I’m not making excuses for myself, it was just something a lot of people did. Now, I’m a pretty anal guy – I haven’t done a Coca-Cola in a couple of years.”
Members of the student group and Johnson said the “war on drugs,” which began in the 1980s, is a failed war. By decriminalizing drugs, society will see an overall leveling, and a possible decrease in the amount of drug use, members said.
“I believe the drug war is dangerous,” SSDP member Kris Lotlikar said. “(Our generation) grew up in the 1980s. We were the children this war was supposed to protect. Drugs are bad, but the drug war is worse.”
GW’s SSDP President Shawn Heller said the war is having a negative impact on society.
“The war on drugs is ruining lives, destroying families and taking tax dollars,” he said.
Johnson said part of the problem with the drug war is that it does not present a true picture of drug use, which forces young people to distrust the information.
“It’s not an honest message – they give a picture of a fried egg and say `this is your brain on drugs.’ That’s not an accurate comparison,” he said. “The kids will do drugs for the first time and say, `it’s not that bad, in fact, it’s kind of cool. They were lying to me.'”
Johnson said the advertising campaigns should explain to students that drug use can be pleasurable, but that it can also become a handicap.
He said the movement will eventually lead to the decriminalization of drugs but that it will not happen immediately.
“I think we have a lot more support than anyone gives us credit for, but it’s a matter of educating one person at a time,” he said. “It’s a grassroots movement and when it catches, it will catch quickly and be a dry grass fire. I don’t think reform is around the corner, but farther in the future.”