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“I would argue just the opposite,” he said. “Here is somebody who is willing to take on the status quo regardless what the topic is and there is a consistency to taking it on, and that includes our drug policy. That’s what I would argue.”

Mr. Johnson — who smoked marijuana between 2005 and 2008 for medicinal purposes — argues that the cost of the war on drugs, by adding to prison populations and fomenting violence along the U.S.-Mexican border, far outweighs any benefit.

States, he said, should have the option of legalizing marijuana, a move that could save $10 billion annually in law-enforcement costs and generate $10 billion in revenue each year in the United States.

He cites such examples as Portugal, which has reduced drug use through decriminalization. “This is a prohibition phenomenon,” he said, shifting the conversation to border violence tied to the drug trade. “Legalize marijuana and arguably 75 percent of the border violence of Mexico goes away.”

Mr. Johnson also has called for ending “nation-building” in Iraq and Afghanistan, a balanced-budget amendment and a 43 percent cut in federal spending, including defense. He also proposes to replace federal income taxes with a 23 percent consumption-based levy.

On immigration, he said the solution is twofold: reform the nation’s welfare state so people can’t collect the same amount of money for sitting at home as they could working low-wage jobs, and make it easier for immigrants to obtain work visas.

“Building a fence across 2,000 miles of border, putting the National Guard arm in arm across the border, that’s a whole lot of money spent and no benefit whatsoever,” he said, adding that he would have vetoed the immigration law that Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, signed into law last year.

Immigrants became scapegoats, the former governor said, for Arizona’s economic woes.

“In a nutshell, that is a reason for all our ills,” he said. “Politicians that stand up and say, ‘I’m going to save you from the illegal alien, I’m going to save you from … drugs and I’m going to make sure you have great health care, and I’m going to save you against the terrorist.’ “

Too many politicians, he said, promise too much.

“That’s what has us in the position we are in,” he said.