How Gary Johnson Should Have Answered a Question about Drugs during the CNN Town Hall

I’ve been a long time supporter of Gary Johnson. He aligns with most my political views and, especially in this election, is the best person running for the title of POTUS. But, I’ll also be the first to admit that despite his platform and qualifications, he is not an expert at word-craft.

This is especially true when it comes to flustering situations, and the Town Hall on CNN last night was just that. CNN had prepared a wide host of people ranging from fellow libertarians like Ron Litchman, the chair of the Manhattan Libertarian party, to Jeannette Mccoy a survivor of the Orlando tragedy who asked a question about gun regulation when the Libertarian platform supports the right to bear arms.

While Jeannette did preface her question by stating that she was a supporter of the second amendment, it was clear that CNN wanted to provide Gary with an opportunity to speak about the high points of his platform while challenging him as a candidate, and rightfully so. Johnson himself has said that he, along with all the other candidates, should face tough scrutiny on their way to the White House, and that is exactly the media’s job.

But, no question seemed more challenging for Gary than one on drug policy posed by Maureen Morella, a mother whose son was disabled due to a line of heroin and who now holds events with her son at various youth organizations spreading awareness about the negative effects of drug use. It was apparent from the beginning that she was against Johnson’s views on drugs, and unfortunately, he did not respond well.

Morella began by telling the story of her son then asked

Please explain to me how you think that legalizing marijuana straight through to heroin can possibly be a harm reduction forum. It makes no sense to me. And when you go out on the road with me, I can assure you that these young people say, ‘Can you people in positions of power, please, get rid of the drugs. We don’t want to loose any more of our siblings or friends.

Johnson responded with a stuttering answer that didn’t seem to please Morella.

So… Heartbreaking, heartbreaking. Um, and we are not espousing the legalization of any drugs outside of marijuana. But, what you are pointing out… and this… this is heartbreaking. But, what you’re pointing out is prohibition really is… is what… is what your son succumbed to. And that was is that overdose… and again speaking specifically please, just… uh… but overdose… you’re, you’re, you’re, you’re a heroin addict, and you’re taking heroin, and you take… you take heroin, and you take your heroin, you take your heroin. Your supplier has now been arrested and put into jail, and now comes a new supplier of heroin. And the new supply of heroin, visually you’re taking the same dose that you’ve been taking before, but it’s eh of a different quality and a different quantity, and it ends up killing you.

He goes on to communicate the successes of programmes in Zurich and Vancouver which have centers to support heroin addicts and provide them with safer heroin. I don’t personally take any drugs, but I agree with the ideologies that Gary is presenting. However, for Morella, it seemed as if any chance Johnson had to convince her had passed with the first statements of his answer.

The way a message is communicated is just as important as the ideology itself, and when speaking with someone who starts out against you, it is best to begin by using empathy to communicate that you are on the same team. So, I think it’s apt to communicate what Gary’s heart was saying, but his mouth couldn’t articulate at the time:

Wow. That is absolutely heartbreaking. I have a daughter and a son and if one day I found out that they were incapacitated due to a heroin overdose, I’d be… well… heartbroken. I can’t begin to fathom the pain you went through, but right now, you and your son are doing an amazing thing. You’re spreading awareness about the dangers of drug abuse, and that message is something people need to hear.
So, to your question… You’re doing what you can, but you want to know what I would push for as a policy-maker to ensure that this tragedy happens to as few people as possible. Well, firstly I’d like to clarify that I am only supporting the legalization of marijuana, which has never had any documented deaths and would compete with pain killers that actually do kill people.
But, even in that case, the heroin problem still remains. It’s already illegal and people are still being harmed by overdoses. What I’d recommend is allowing municipalities to use Vancouver and Zurich, Switzerland as an example. These cities experienced huge levels of heroin abuse, so to combat it, the local governments started treating heroin addicts not as criminals, but as people with an illness. Addicts could safely seek out help for their addiction and, in the most extreme cases, get a supply of clean heroin and needles to ensure that negative side effects are minimized.
Heroin has horrible negative side effects. There’s no denying that. But, I think that through the combined efforts of smart public policy and the message of people like you, we can work together to ensure that fewer people experience the harmful effects of drugs and fewer parents have to experience heartbreak.