- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 4, 2012

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Still struggling to break through in the presidential race, Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson on Tuesday rallied outside the Democratic National Convention with other critics of the federal government’s war on drugs and blasted both President Obama and GOP rival Mitt Romney for ignoring the issue.

The demonstration, which drew about 70 people, came on the same day Mr. Obama was hit with charges of hypocrisy by marijuana advocates for his recent wink-and-nod appeal to cannabis smokers while taking virtually no action to reform the nation’s drug laws.

In a commercial promoting the DNC, Mr. Obama calls former White House staffer Kal Penn and asks for his support. Mr. Penn starred in the stoner-centric “Harold and Kumar” movies, and appears in the ad alongside his co-star, John Cho.

Mr. Johnson — the highest-level official to come out in favor of marijuana legalization and regulation — said the president is just the latest in a long line of those unwilling to tackle the sticky, politically treacherous matter of revamping U.S. drug policy.

“It’s still the third rail, even though the country is at a tipping point right now,” said Mr. Johnson, former governor of New Mexico. “This is a gigantic issue when you consider tens of millions of Americans are convicted felons that otherwise, but for these drugs laws, wouldn’t be.”

Mr. Johnson’s status as the de facto leader of the marijuana legalization movement has the potential to translate into votes. Three states have pot measures on the ballot this fall, the most sweeping in Colorado, where voters will decide whether to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in the same manner as alcohol.

As more and more states take similar action, Mr. Johnson argues, the Democratic and Republican parties will be forced to finally confront the issue.

“The tipping point is in Colorado in the fall,” he said. “Let’s say Colorado does it. Well, when the entire country gets on an airplane to go to Denver for the weekend to chill out, that’s the first domino that falls with regard to all 50 states.”

While Mr. Johnson has made drug law reform a key issue in his campaign, it’s received little to no attention from either major party candidate. Mr. Obama has on several occasions laughed off questions about marijuana legalization and decriminalization. Earlier this year, Mr. Romney reiterated his opposition to all forms of marijuana use.

“Both Obama and Romney need to seriously consider how ignoring this issue could affect the election,” said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. “With neither Romney nor Obama publicly offering any substantive support for reform, voters could be swayed to vote for candidates such as Gary Johnson. In swing states such as Colorado … the candidates’ positions on this issue could have a noticeable impact.”