Gary Johnson: Yea, I Inhaled. Two Years Ago, Actually.

What will Republicans think of a candidate for President who admitted to smoking marijuana as recently as two years ago?

Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has already distinguished himself among his fellow Republicans for his full-throated advocacy of marijuana legalization. Now, in a Weekly Standard interview, Johnson goes further:

Gary Johnson, the former New Mexico governor and a likely 2012 Republican presidential candidate, hasn’t been shy about his support for marijuana legalization or his personal use of the drug during his younger days. “I never exhaled,” he joked in a recent interview with The New Republic. But in an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Johnson admitted publicly for the first time that he smoked marijuana more recently—from 2005 to 2008—for medicinal purposes, he says.

“It’s not anything I volunteer, but you’re the only person that actually asked about it,” says Johnson, who governed New Mexico from 1994 to 2002. “But for luck, I guess, I wasn’t arrested.” Although smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes was illegal in New Mexico until 2007, Johnson says he needed the drug following a 2005 paragliding accident in Hawaii. His sails got caught in a tree, he stalled—and fell about fifty feet straight down to the ground, he says. Johnson suffered multiple bone fractures, including a burst fracture to his T12 vertebrae. “In my human experience, it’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

“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.

For a typical presidential candidate, admitting to illegally smoking marijuana just a few years ago would be badly damaging. But Gary Johnson isn’t a typical candidate. He’s a libertarian prophet crying out for the Republican Party to “get back to the religion of the pocketbook,” and spreading his message takes precedence over appealing to Republican primary voters. His personal marijuana story may even help him spread the word. And marijuana legalization may, in fact, be a much easier sell to Republican primary voters than Johnson’s positions on national security, foreign policy, and social policy.

For what it’s worth, medical marijuana is legal in New Mexico, although it’s unclear whether Johnson suffered from the type of condition that would have authorized a prescription under the law at the time.  Since Johnson makes reference to not being arrested, one assumes that it wasn’t and that he effectively broke the law at the time. Now, granted, Johnson is the darkest of dark horses in the GOP field for 2012, but I honestly have to wonder if this revelation really hurts him. Surely, social conservatives aren’t going to like it, but then they weren’t going to vote for him anyway and neither are the neocons:

A dove in the mold of 2008 Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul, Johnson says, “I don’t think that we should be in Iraq or Afghanistan.” But the extent of his non-interventionism isn’t quite clear. On one hand, he isn’t even sure if U.S. troops should have been stationed in Europe to confront the Soviets following World War II. “I don’t think I have the expertise to be able to say that it was good or bad, it just seems to me that today, it doesn’t really seem warranted,” he says. Johnson also says Iran’s nuclear program isn’t a threat to the United States because the principle of “mutually assured destruction” would keep the Iranians from attacking.

On the other hand, Johnson is open, in principle, to waging humanitarian wars. “If there’s a clear genocide somewhere, don’t we really want to positively impact that kind of a situation?” he says. “Isn’t that what we’re all about? Isn’t that what we’ve always been about? But just this notion of nation building—I think the current policy is making us more enemies than more friends.”

In one notable break from Ron Paul’s foreign policy, Johnson offers rhetorical support for Israel. “I think that we really do have a vested interest in Israel and that we shouldn’t walk away from that interest,” he says. Johnson also puts distance between himself and the 9/11 Truthers, who found a friendly home in the Ron Paul campaign. “Based on what I know,” Johnson says, “no, I don’t think the 9/11 report should be reopened, based on my knowledge.”

While Johnson’s executive experience, along with his inclination to spurn the fringe elements that were attracted to the 2008 Paul campaign, could help him emerge as a more appealing candidate than Paul, his positions on social issues—which are more in line with Rudy Giuliani—could also limit his popularity in the Republican primaries.

In principle, Johnson thinks abortion should be legal in most cases. “I support a woman’s right to choose [abortion] up until viability of the fetus,” he says. Why does viability endow human beings with the right to life? “I don’t personally have a sense that life starts at conception,” Johnson answers intuitively. “I don’t personally have that sense.”

But as a matter of law, Johnson thinks Roe v. Wade should be overturned. “It should be a states issue to begin with,” he says. “The criteria for a Supreme Court justice would be that those justices rule on the original intent of the constitution. Given that, it’s my understanding that that justice would overturn Roe v. Wade.”

Does Johnson think there’s a constitutional right to same-sex marriage? “I don’t see it,” he says, “but I do support gay unions. I think the government should be out of the marriage business and leave marriage to the churches.”

As I noted several months ago, Johnson is not your typical Republican by any means but he does represent, in a way none of the other potential candidates do and in a better manner than Ron Paul did in 2008, the libertarian wing of the GOP:

For one thing, Johnson doesn’t come with some of the baggage that Ron Paul did in 2008. There are no political polemics with controversial statements, or associations with people who’ve gone on to become advocates of odd conspiracy theories, in Johnson’s past. For another, the Republican Party of 2012 will clearly be far more receptive to the libertarian-ish positions that Johnson espouses than it was in 2008. Despite his fundraising successes and the fact that he was attracting enthusiastic support on college campuses, it was easy for the rest of the GOP to ignore Ron Paul in 2008 and dismiss him in the manner that pundits like Sean Hannity did. Even in a crowded field of candidates, it won’t be so easy to dismiss Gary Johnson.

This will be especially true if, as appears, we end up with a bunch of Republicans all saying the same thing.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. michael reynolds says:

    It depends. Did he bogart that joint? Did he deny he was holding when he could have turned his homies on to some primo chronic? While high did he constantly insist on talking about, like, how maybe the world is just a dream, man? Has he had any impairment of his short-term . . . um . . . you know. . . um. . . starts with an “m.” Or maybe, like, a “t.”

  2. John C. Randolph says:

    Mr. Reynolds, do you imagine that you’re funny at all?

    Governor Johnson, like thousands of other people, used Marijuana for pain relief. He had suffered severe injuries in a fifty-foot fall, breaking his back, both knees, and several ribs. Rather than accept the side effects of opiates and other conventional painkillers, he chose a medication that did the job without crippling him.

    Marijuana legalization is a serious issue, and you do no good to anyone with your sophomoric mocking.


  3. James Joyner says:


    For what it’s worth, I think your mocking rises to at least junior level

  4. mantis says:


    Lighten up, dude.

    Anyway, I like Johnson even more now. I’ll register Republican to vote for him in the primary if he runs.

  5. michael reynolds says:


    Dude. Chill.

    I smoked weed for about 20 years. I support legalization and have for, oh, about 40 years.

    I’m also a Californian, so spare me the party line on medical marijuana. Snoop Dogg has a prescription. When asked on Howard Stern what his medical problem was Snoop answered — as best I recall — “I don’t remember, but I know there’s no cure.”

    It’s really okay to relax a little, even about political issues. Take a hit, mellow thyself.

  6. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    The fact you use drugs and depend on them speaks loudly about your opinions here Mikey. The perfect example of the effects of long term drug use. What is it like to need a chemical crutch? The governor used it for pain relief. I think you use it to feed a hunger.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    Actually, Zels, the telling point is that you don’t seem to know the difference between present tense and past. “Smoked” would be past tense. And a clever fellow might have done the 40/20 math and concluded that the 20 represented an earlier time in my life.

    But no one ever accused you of being clever.

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    For medicinal purposes it’s not an issue with most Republicans.

  9. Tim Conway says:


    Who cares if he smokes cannabis for fun or medical reasons? Whom are you to make his lifestyle choices? I know Johnson wouldn’t make such call for me, that’s why I’ll vote for him & Johnson wouldn’t lock me in a cage.

  10. floyd says:

    “”What will Republicans think of a candidate for President who admitted to smoking marijuana as recently as two years ago? “”
    Some will likely think he's a Democrat…. but then some people in Illinois think Kirk is a Republican… and we don't know WHAT they're smoking![LOL]

  11. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Tim, it who not whom. I personally do not care if Ponce shoots heroin in his neck. If you are talking about lifestyle choices. It is those of his ilk who wish to dictate lifestyle choices. Smoking Marijuana is against federal law. I believe possession is still a federal felony. Where do you draw the line when it comes to those who wish to hold office when it comes to abiding by the laws they would impose upon us? By the way, I have a solution for you concerning carbon emissions, if you are at all green. I call it the little bag solution. All those who believe we much control CO2 as a way of combatting green house gases. Obtain proper size plastic bags with ties. Place them over you heads and tie tightly around the neck. Voila! Population reduction as well as carbon emission reduction all in one step.

  12. Rock says:

    Like Bill Clinton, Governor Johnson should have said, “but I didn’t inhale.” Nevertheless, he would be in deep horse poo if he’d have gotten caught smoking in a smoke free zone. And there’s no telling the damage he did to those people withing a mile of him with all the second hand smoke he generated. For shame, Governor!

  13. In response to the question accompanying this post on the main page, I think most Republicans will say “Gary who?”

  14. Herb says:

    “In response to the question accompanying this post on the main page, I think most Republicans will say “Gary who?””

    And then there will be others for whom Johnson is a perennial fav. I think, though, that this puts the nail in the coffin for Johnson’s larger political aspirations. It’s too bad, really. He coulda been a contenda….

  15. Johnson is a libertarian dolt: the policies he supports would increase spending at the same time as reducing the power of the few teaparty useful idiots who are dumb enough to vote for him:

    P.S. I’ve tweeted that to him several times and he’s never replied to defend himself.

    P.P.S. That said, it’d be great if he runs: it’d get the libertarians hopes up and take away their money and then cause them disappointment when he receives 2% of the vote.

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    They have an article about Mr. Johnson over at Hot Air. It is not his drug use that would be a problem it is his liberal stance on issues. Do you, Doug, understand the term “Republican In Name Only”? This dude is a Rino. You once again put up limited information about Gary Johnson.

  17. sam says:


    “I think you use it to feed a hunger.”

    Shows how much you know about smoking dope.

    “This dude is a Rino. You once again put up limited information about Gary Johnson.”

    Probably the dumbest thing Zels has ever posted here, at that is saying a megamegalot.

  18. anjin-san says:

    I am a recovering drug addict, and I support legalization. Pot is no where near as harmful as alcohol and tobacco.

    Our drug laws are beyond moronic. They are expensive, they are unjust, they give the government too much power, and they just plain don’t work.

  19. Jay Straw says:

    If Paul and Johnson are in the debates together, this is going to be one helluva run. The Republicans would post a Paul/Johnson ticket if they weren’t the right arm of a fascist empire. Can’t shrink the state now! Not when it’s draining the ability of people to start businesses, sell homegrown produce or goods, exchange services…if elected, maybe they could prevent federal enforcement of legal tender laws? Fingers crossed anyway

  20. Christine says:

    My concern is Johnson’s willingness to put Israel above the U.S..
    Does he believe that Palestine should also be free?