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Southern Baptist crusader calls N.M. governor’s drug views ‘pie in the sky’

SANTA FE, N.M. (BP)–A Southern Baptist anti-drug crusader says New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson’s views that drugs should be legalized is “pie in the sky” and “not based on reason.”
Ted Stone, a Durham, N.C., minister and former drug addict, met with Johnson Nov. 1 to discuss the governor’s views, which lately have drawn national attention and considerable criticism from fellow public officials.
Johnson, 46, a Republican and the highest-ranking elected official to advocate drug legalization, has said he will use his position to advance the issue nationally, but has no plans to implement such policies in his home state.
The second-term governor is a triathlete who abstains from drugs, alcohol and junk food, but has admitted using drugs in his youth.
Johnson had concealed his views until June, when it leaked to the press that he planned to begin a campaign in the fall advocating drug legalization, Johnson’s press secretary, Diane Kinderwater, told Baptist Press.
His views stirred controversy last month after Johnson tried to make his case for drug legalization in a speech at The Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank.
“By legalizing drugs we could reduce the amount of drug abuse we have in this country,” Johnson was quoted as saying in an Oct. 19 Chicago Tribune article. “Law enforcement would be able to enforce laws we want them to but can’t because half their focus is on drugs.”
Stone said Johnson is a “victim of a kind of creeping frustration” that the drug war seems hopeless. “It’s very easy to hoist the white flag of surrender unless you have the hope that it can be solved — and (Christians) have that hope.”
During a 15-minute meeting in the governor’s office, Stone and his ministry partner Philip Barber told Johnson his plan would increase addiction, human suffering and government social spending.
Stone said Johnson responded that the benefits of drug legalization would outweigh the costs. The Tribune story reported Johnson and other drug legalization advocates believe state and local governments could benefit fiscally by regulating, distributing and taxing the drugs.
“You control and tax drugs and that is going to reduce drug abuse,” Kinderwater said. “It’s common sense. You tax the drugs and you use that money to educate and treat people.”
Kinderwater said Johnson has repeatedly stressed that drugs are a “bad choice.”
Johnson told The Cato Institute: “We need to make drugs a controlled substance just like alcohol. Perhaps we ought to let the government regulate it, let the government grow it, let the government manufacture it, distribute it, market it. And if that doesn’t lead to decreased drug use, I don’t know what would.”
“I just think his proposal is pie in the sky,” Stone remarked. “I don’t think it’s based on reason.”
Johnson and Stone met once before, in 1996, during Stone’s first of two cross-country walks to spread his gospel-based, anti-drug message. Stone said he believes that meeting helped spark a measure that outlawed drive-in windows at New Mexico liquor stores.
Though Stone said the governor then disagreed with him that the drive-ins should be outlawed, Johnson later signed the measure.
“It showed me that for whatever reason he was capable of changing his mind on an issue, so there is hope.”
Johnson has signed a card pledging to abstain from alcohol and illicit drugs — the same pledge card messengers were urged to sign at the 1999 Southern Baptist Convention, Stone said.
New Mexico’s lieutenant governor, Republican Walter Bradley, a Southern Baptist who ran with Johnson on the same ticket, opposes drug legalization. Stone and Barber also met briefly with Bradley, who told them he has voiced his disagreement to Johnson.
Barry McCaffrey, federal drug policy director, said the governor’s actions “serve as a terrible model for the rest of the nation” and would “put more drugs into the hands of our children and make drugs more available on our nation’s streets,” the Tribune article reported.
The article also quoted John Dendahl, New Mexico Republican Party chairman, as saying some in the GOP are so angered by Johnson’s position they “would write a resolution absolutely condemning him.”
New Mexico Southern Baptists approved a resolution during their annual meeting Oct. 26-27 encouraging Johnson “to reverse this most destructive and immoral position … .”
Drug legalization in countries such as England and The Netherlands has resulted in higher addiction rates, a U.S. Department of Justice Internet site says.
The site quotes a 1990 article by James Q. Wilson, “Against the Legalization of Drugs,” which states the British government’s dispensing of heroin “resulted in, at a minimum, a 30-fold increase in the number of addicts in 10 years.”
In The Netherlands, the number of heroin addicts sharply increased in 1992 because a rise in supply led to a price drop of up to 75 percent, the web site reported.
Though they disagree on legalization, Stone said he agrees with Johnson that more dialogue is needed.
“There are those who infer that if you disagree with the government policy on fighting the drug war, you are an enemy of the state. That’s not right either,” Stone said.
Nevertheless, “I do think it’s dangerous any time you do not respond to a suggestion like the governor’s.”
Stone said because the cultural mindset is that any physical or emotional discomfort requires relief, legalization, with its easy access and social acceptability, would only increase addiction.
“We won’t ever find the solution in government. It lies in the hearts of men. I think that if the American people can understand the nature of the problem, then they’ll join together and they’ll be a great possibility of victory,” said Stone, who plans a third cross-country walk next year.
Jerry Pierce is a free lance writer in Oklahoma City. (BP) photo posted in BP Photos section of the Baptist Press photo area of www.sbc.net. File name: tedstone.jpg.

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  • Jerry Pierce