2012 CAMPAIGN: LIBERTARIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE

Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson backs Florida ballot drive to legalize medicinal marijuana

 

The marijuana legalization proposal faces tough challenges in Florida. So does Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

mcaputo@MiamiHerald.com

Gary Johnson, whose Libertarian presidential bid has already spooked Republicans, might get a few Democratic voters as well thanks to his support for a sleeper issue in Florida: medical marijuana.

“Johnson is expected to endorse the current effort to put a Constitutional Amendment to legalize medicinal marijuana on the Florida ballot in 2014,” said Johnson’s Florida political advisor, Roger Stone, a one-time GOP operative who lives in Miami Beach.

The marijuana proposal faces a series of tough challenges in Florida. And so does Johnson.

As a third-party candidate, the little-known former Republican governor of New Mexico doesn’t have the name recognition or major financial support that Republican Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama enjoy.

Johnson’s campaign says the system is rigged against other parties. He filed a federal lawsuit this week that claimed the Federal Election Commission owes the campaign $747,115.34 in public campaign-financing money.

The FEC declined to comment.

In August, the FEC reported that it had awarded Johnson’s campaign a total of $303,751.20. The Democratic and Republican parties each received $18,248,300 for their conventions. The two major party candidates are entitled to as much as $92,241,400, Johnson’s suit says.

Johnson has fought or is fighting Republicans with legal challenges to get on the ballot in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Michigan and Oklahoma. He also is suing to get into the presidential debates. The first is scheduled for next Wednesday, Oct. 3.

Mirroring Johnson’s uphill struggle: The People United for Medical Marijuana committee, called PUFMM, a largely liberal group. It has raised $40,628 and spent $33,470 since 2009 to get medical marijuana on the Florida ballot. It needs 676,811 valid voter signatures but has collected just 100,000 so far, said PUFMM’s Florida Chairwoman Kim Russell.

If the measure makes the ballot, it would then face the daunting requirement that it pass with 60 percent of the vote.

Russell said she hoped Johnson would help spread the word of the medical-marijuana campaign.

“Hopefully it’ll make a big difference,” she said. “He’s awesome.”

Johnson doesn’t have much support in Florida. He pulled just 1 percent in The Miami Herald/Tampa Bay News’ latest poll.

But, as Ralph Nader proved in 2000, a percent means a lot in a tight Florida election. Nader received 1.6 percent of the vote, and many liberals blamed George Bush’s 537-vote victory in Florida on Nader.

The Libertarian candidate in 2008, Bob Barr, won 0.21 percent of the Florida vote.

Stone, Johnson’s advisor, believes he’ll do better than Barr.

He points out that Johnson is appealing to the right for his stances on taxes and regulation. And liberals like his position on medical marijuana, which is decriminalized in 17 states and the District of Columbia. Seven more states could decide this year whether to follow suit.

Meantime, the Obama administration has begun to more aggressively use federal authority to keep pot illegal.

To get the Johnson message out, allies have passed out packs of Johnson-emblazoned “Live Free” rolling papers that are printed by a group calling itself the Thomas Jefferson Coalition, which features an apparently apocryphal quote from the founding father. Folks pass them out at Johnson rallies like a gay-rights discussion in Orlando.

“Pardons to all first time non-violent drug offenders,” the packs say on one side. “Haven’t American families suffered enough?”

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