Before Sanders was “first,” 3 out of 4 pro-legalization major-party candidates were Libertarian Party crossovers

Gary Johnson (left) and Mike Gravel (Image: Cannabis Sativa Inc.)

A brief exchange between myself and Jacob Sullum about something he posted at Reason, led him to write this piece at Forbes, about the history of presidential candidates who endorsed marijuana legalization before Bernie Sanders became widely touted as the “first.”

Examining only their major-party campaigns, Sullum names two candidates who were unambiguously advocates of both state and federal marijuana legalization: Mike Gravel and Gary Johnson, and two who in his estimation came close: Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich. But as he also notes, three of those (Gravel, Johnson, and Paul) either previously were, or would go on to be, Libertarian Party candidates.

Excerpt:

When Mike Gravel, a Democrat who represented Alaska in the Senate from 1969 to 1981, ran for his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, he argued that marijuana should be treated like alcohol. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to go to a liquor store and buy marijuana,” he said during an August 2007 debate. Although he participated in several debates, Gravel never polled above 1%, and he got just 0.14% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. In March 2008 he announced that he was switching to the Libertarian Party. Last year he became a director of Cannabis Sativa Inc., a marijuana products company.

Cannabis Sativa’s president and CEO, Gary Johnson, happens to be the other major-party presidential candidate who clearly endorsed marijuana legalization years before Sanders. Johnson, who was governor of New Mexico from 1995 through 2002, made headlines by criticizing the war on drugs during his second term, when he unsuccessfully urged legislators to legalize medical marijuana and decriminalize possession of small amounts for recreational use. Johnson went further after launching his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in April 2011. […]

Like Gravel, Johnson switched to the Libertarian Party, winning its 2012 presidential nomination. Johnson received nearly 1% of the popular vote, just a bit less than Ed Clark, the most successful Libertarian presidential candidate, who got 1.1% in 1980.

Read the rest at Forbes.

12 thoughts on “Before Sanders was “first,” 3 out of 4 pro-legalization major-party candidates were Libertarian Party crossovers

  1. Bob

    Ah, the good old days.

    Sanders was briefly a libertarian at the beginning of his career, and ran with the endorsements of local libertarians. This moved him from the standard extreme leftist view of the time (i.e. feminism, drug legalization and gay rights were ‘bourgeois indulgences’ and ‘libertarian capitalist roadism’ )to some semblance of his present positions.

    He also moderated his socialism from crazy Maoism to a libertarianesque local eco-socialism, though this seems to have changed as he’s become obsessed with attacking profits wherever he sees them.

  2. Andy Craig Post author

    “”Sanders was briefly a libertarian at the beginning of his career””

    I wouldn’t go quite that far. More like he was part of a left-wing party (Liberty Union) that also included a substantial left-libertarian/libertarian-socialist faction as part of its coalition.

  3. NewFederalist

    Also, wasn’t Senator Sanders a member of the Socialist Workers Party at one time? I thought they were more Trotskyite than Maoist.

  4. Andy Craig Post author

    The only party he’s ever been a member or candidate of (other than Dem) is Liberty Union, in the 1970s. He left them in a huff after having been their leader and top-of-the-ticket candidate in a few elections, and went on to play a big role in forming the VT Progressive Party, but he never officially joined them. First as Mayor of Burlington, and then when he ran for Congress when the Dems agreed not to oppose him, his ballot label has been Independent. He’s never been a member of any party with “Socialist” in its name.

  5. NewFederalist

    His Wikipedia article mentions the Socialist Party of America but not the SWP. I could have sworn I read that somewhere. Perhaps Richard Winger or Darcy Richardson could weigh in.

  6. Andy Craig Post author

    The Wikipedia reference was to when he was a student activist at U. Chicago and was apparently an SPA member along with a grab-bag of other lefty campus groups. I didn’t know that, but it was long before he first ran for office.

  7. paulie

    Before Sanders was “first,” 3 out of 4 pro-legalization major-party candidates were Libertarian Party crossovers

    The LP’s long standing leadership on this issue created ripple effects that we don’t nearly get close to the full credit for.

  8. Rod Stern

    Would Obama even be able to get away with saying that if all the work to push the issue had not been done for decades? Would any of the laws that have already changed or that will change in the next few years have changed? Maybe the LP is not as useless as you think even if its impact is not as immediate or direct as we might like.

  9. Andy Craig

    “The LP’s long standing leadership on this issue created ripple effects that we don’t nearly get close to the full credit for.”

    Agreed. That, is unfortunately, part of the dynamic of third-parties-as-change-agents. If it works like in theory– that major-party politicians chase after the marginal spoiler voters, and also that third-party candidates effect a slow-burn shift in broader public opinion by pushing the margins of what is discussed– then you wouldn’t expect us to get the due credit for the eventual policy changes.

    I think it works, and is real, but I fully expect it to be relatively thankless and mostly unrecognized. One half or another of the duopoly will jump in front of the parade at the last second so it looks like they’re leading it. That’s what they do, as predictably as a dog will lift its leg.

    But it doesn’t really matter. Getting those changes is the goal, not getting credit for it. If the LP never wins big because the Ds and Rs co-opt our entire platform— great! Mission accomplished! And if the LP does start to win big because the Ds and Rs refuse to follow the shifts in public opinion in a more libertarian direction– great! Mission accomplished! Either one works for me, as opposed to what would happen without an LP, which is no incentive at all for either the major parties or public opinion to become more libertarian.

  10. paulie

    But it doesn’t really matter. Getting those changes is the goal, not getting credit for it. If the LP never wins big because the Ds and Rs co-opt our entire platform— great! Mission accomplished! And if the LP does start to win big because the Ds and Rs refuse to follow the shifts in public opinion in a more libertarian direction– great! Mission accomplished! Either one works for me, as opposed to what would happen without an LP, which is no incentive at all for either the major parties or public opinion to become more libertarian.

    Great point, I agree.

    BTW I think you should share this article on the LP main page.

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