Gary Johnson, former two-term governor of New Mexico and CEO of a marijuana company, told an audience of cannabis industry representatives that voters, not politicians, are propelling the legalization movement and that dynamic is likely to shift if California says yes to legal pot in 2016.
Johnson, an outspoken legalization advocate who plans to run again for president in 2016, gave the keynote speech Sunday at the Oregon Medical Marijuana Business Conference. About 750 people are attending the two-day conference at the Eugene Hilton, said Alex Rogers, the event’s organizer.
Johnson is CEO of Cannabis Sativa, a publicly traded company that produces marijuana-infused products. He spoke with The Oregonian/OregonLive after his speech. (His answers have been edited for length and clarity.)
What role do you think marijuana will play in the 2016 presidential election?
I can’t say but (I have) one observation: In the last presidential race drugs were not even mentioned, wasn’t a part of any debate or any question. Neither side touched marijuana. Rather than them coming on and denouncing drug use or giving the normal drivel on the topic, they just completely avoided it. I hope it changes and if Hilary (Clinton) is the nominee and Jeb (Bush) is the nominee, I hope to run for president and if I do, I think it might receive a lot more attention. What we have moved to now is ‘I don’t do it and I hate it and it’s horrible,’ but we will leave it to the states. That seems to be the new political safe haven.
You’ve discounted the idea that the guide used by Washington — 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood — to measure impairment is sound. How should states gauge a driver’s impairment?
This is the responsibility that some state is going to have to take on. Impairment needs to be established. Using nanograms — I don’t know what impairment is but it’s a big, gigantic issue that is just completely under the radar. What’s under the radar is people are losing their jobs because they are testing positive for the presence of marijuana in their systems. Are they impaired? No they are not.
In my own experience I gotta tell you I am speaking to people now who have never used marijuana and are scared to death of this whole notion of people on the highways driving impaired. We should be scared to death of people on the highways impaired but in the case of marijuana, be aware that presently we don’t test for impairment. We simply test for the presence of marijuana.
Marijuana-infused edible products are at the center of controversy and concern, from dosing to consumer safety to keeping these products from children. As a company promoting marijuana products, how do you address those issues and what’s the future for edibles?
I like to liken this whole scare thing about packaging and edibles and candy and bright colors to bleach. Kids consume bleach. It’s under the counter. Are kids consuming edibles? No, they are not. They are really not. It’s just made up. It’s just a baloney topic. It doesn’t happen. Parents take care of their marijuana stash.
What about safe dosing, particularly for novice marijuana consumers?
That is very real. To be in this space as a producer or a labeler, that has to be at the forefront. Look, if you have never used this before, don’t take more than 10 milligrams (of THC). If you have used it before and you want to step up, (use) 20 milligrams (of THC).
When it comes to state regulation of legal marijuana, what do you think lawmakers and policy makers need to pay particular attention to?
Let me start out by giving kudos to Washington State. Hey, they legalized it. They are engaged. How are they going to regulate it and make it a legal product? They have screwed it up as bad as they possibly can. They have taxed it to the level where if you are a prior user of marijuana, prior to it being legal in Washington, you are still consuming it on the black market because of how expensive it is. It’s the worst-case scenario and they have it playing out in Washington State.
So excessive taxation is the problem in Washington as you see it?
Pay attention to how you are taxing it. Adopting rules and regulations and taxation that allows the entire industry to move above the line. I always point out that the tax revenue from marijuana gets dwarfed by the savings in law enforcement, the courts and prisons. You are moving the entire industry from a black market. You have all those incomes that are going to be reported to the IRS. Completely forget about tax revenue from the products.
All the other ancillary affects are more positive than the tax revenue. If there were no tax revenue at all we would be way, way ahead because of all of those other things.
What’s your personal experience with marijuana?
I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I have used our products. Do I use it on a regular basis? No. Do I smoke marijuana? No. I am excited about the edible aspect of it.
Are you an Oregon medical marijuana patient?
Have you tried Oregon marijuana? Can you rate it compared with what’s produced elsewhere?
I can’t rate it. No matter what state you are in that is where the best weed is produced. The best weed is produced at that very spot no matter where you are, no exception.
— Noelle Crombie