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A Playboy Conversation with Gary Johnson about the Politics of Spinelessness

A Playboy Conversation with Gary Johnson about the Politics of Spinelessness: © Robin Jerstad / ZUMA Press / Corbis

© Robin Jerstad / ZUMA Press / Corbis

I’m waiting to interview former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, but I have to wait a little bit longer because he’s currently locked in an advanced Vulcan mind meld with one of his supporters. Johnson is at FreedomFest, the annual libertarian gathering in Las Vegas, and for the past 30 minutes dozens of conference attendees have been taking photos with the 2012 presidential candidate and offering him unsolicited advice. One woman tells him, as if it was easy to do, “You should make a viral video and put it on YouTube.”

In 2012 Johnson came as close to going viral as any libertarian presidential candidate has since 1980, capturing 1.3 million votes, the most of any third party candidate in the election. Johnson said he plans to run again in 2016, which explains why he’s in Sin City letting a full-grown man in what looks like a homemade T-shirt lean forehead-to-forehead and whisper to him. Can you imagine Donald Trump, Jeb Bush or Hillary Clinton ever having a moment like this with a voter? Gary Johnson’s cool like that.

When he’s not running for president, Johnson is the CEO of Cannabis Sativa, a seller of marijuana products, which makes him the only potential 2016 presidential candidate who earns his money selling a substance the federal government still deems illegal. But don’t mistake business with decadence. It’s been 28 years since he’s had a drop of alcohol. Gary Johnson’s is an interesting mind to meld with.


Tell me about your business.
I’m the CEO and president of Cannabis Sativa, Inc. It’s very exciting. The goal is to be a billion dollar market cap based on earnings and revenue. We’re a startup. I probably know more about marijuana than anybody else you’ve ever talked to.

I don’t know. I work at Playboy. Do you use your company’s products?

Yes.

You’re a healthy guy. You’re a runner.
I’ve done the seven summits. My whole life is about health and fitness. Recreationally I have been indulging, a few times a week. What I’ve come to realize is that, personally, I’m better when not doing these products. Anything is OK in moderation. I maintain that marijuana is so much safer than alcohol. With the legalization of marijuana, it’s providing a real alternative to harder drugs, because of the refinements that are coming along with THC.

Gay marriage was recently legalized. Why is marijuana legalization a laggard compared to other social issues?

Right now in America people ought to be outraged. The majority of the people in this country support legalizing marijuana, and yet the minority is not only not allowing that to take place, but they’re putting you in jail for it. This is the classic definition of tyranny, and this is what exists today in America, and I can’t think of any other example where you go to jail as the majority.

Why does this minority have control?

Spineless politicians. Absolutely spineless politicians. I get the dynamics. You start as a candidate, you’re in the local forum, and somebody comes up to you and says, “You’re not for legalizing marijuana, are you?”


By the way, I’m the highest-ranking government official to call for legalization, and I remain that way. Since 1999. There is not one single congressperson, governor or senator at that level calling for the legalization of marijuana today. Not one. And yet the majority of Americans want to see it happen.

What’s next for legalization?
I think the tipping point has been reached. The wall is falling. The next watershed, I think, is going to be California. I think they’re going to vote at the ballot box in 2016 to legalize it recreationally. Then my crystal ball sees 20 states, overnight, legislate it, as opposed to the ballot box. That’ll be the big tipping point.

What do you think about President Obama?

I’ve always said I don’t know if there’s anything that comes out of Obama’s mouth that I disagree with. It’s just that there’s a disconnect between what comes out of his mouth and what ends up to be reality.

Is that a bug in the political system that you have to, I don’t want to say lie, but misrepresent? Or when you get into office do you think you’re faced with these really hard choices and you’re forced to compromise?
I think in Obama’s case it was a phenomenon. It was a media phenomenon that will probably never duplicate itself. Obama doesn’t have a resume that warranted him being President of the United States. No way, shape or form. And it’s reflective of his performance. 
Very simply: wonderful words. I always say Obama’s words are like violin.

There was a report a couple of months ago on CNN where you were talking about Rand Paul, but it wasn’t very clear what you had said about him. I wanted to give you a chance to talk about Paul, who gets called a Libertarian.

He’s the most Libertarian of the Republicans, but the differences that I have, and that Libertarians have, with Rand Paul, are marriage equality, abortion, drug policy, military intervention and immigration. Rand Paul wants to build a fence across the border. That is whacked. With the exception of those five issues, we’re simpatico. But these are not five minor issues.

A guy getting a lot of attention right now is Bernie Sanders. Why do you think that is?
In the case of the Democrats there’s nobody running. As the only alternative to Hillary, and I realize he’s not the only alternative, but those that potentially offer that alternative, they are given attention.

What would a Hillary White House look like?

Well, you know, let’s put the question like this: Hillary or Bush? Really? Is this country of 350 million people only capable of being governed by two families? Are we going to have 16 years of the Bushes? Potentially 20 years of the Bushes? Potentially 16 years of the Clintons?

What’s the argument against that?

The argument against that is there are a lot of bright people in this country. I’m in no way including myself in that group. But there are alternatives to this. It’s a system. Name familiarity is the major reason a person gets elected. Name familiarity has to do with money. Jeb Bush has raised $117 million dollars to this point.

Donald Trump – is this a brief sideshow? Are we going to be seeing this guy for months and months and months?

We’re going to see him for months and months and months, and he’s going to be given more airtime than anybody else. Donald Trump is not going to be successful getting the nomination. But now Republicans are going to get tagged with being arm in arm with Donald Trump, and ultimately the Republican Party is going to take it on the chin as a result of this.

You ran the most successful Libertarian presidential campaign in history in 2012. What did that accomplish?

Well, first of all, I was shocked the results weren’t better. I really was. I go back to the results from ISideWith. I genuinely believe I’m reflective of what most Americans believe. I would not be here today if what I’m saying was being said by any other candidate. What I’m saying is not being said. That’s that combination with a broad brushstroke of being fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I’ve always said I’m a flaming liberal when it comes to comparing myself to Obama, when it comes to social issues. I’m more conservative than any other candidate running when it comes to dollars and cents.

Why is there a gap then between what people think and how they vote?

It’s this phenomenon of ‘you can’t waste your vote.’ In my opinion a wasted vote is voting for somebody you don’t believe in.

Will you run in 2016?
Yes. I hope to do that. As a Libertarian.

Will you raise the same issues this time around?
It is the same issues. But they’re not small. They are a constant. I didn’t come out from under a culvert to be here today. I got to serve two terms as governor of New Mexico, and these wacko things I’m talking about, in a state that’s two to one Democrat, I get elected as a Republican. When most people hear that they think, ‘Well, gosh, this is the guy who spent a whole lot of money.’ No! I was the most penny-pinching Republican you’ve seen, but I was a flaming Democrat when it came to civil liberties.


Joe Donatelli is the Sex & Culture editor of Playboy.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joedonatelli.


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