Libertarian vice presidential candidate Judge Jim Gray stopped in Denver last Thursday to tour medical marijuana centers and facilities, highlighting the importance of the ‘cannabis vote’ as the party struggles to be included in the presidential debates.
Gray stumped for Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson, a former two-term New Mexico governor, stopping at least three medical marijuana centers where he pleaded with marijuana advocates for their support. The cannabis vote could help with the Libertarian Party’s polling as the party fights to meet the 15 percent national polling threshold set by the Commission on Presidential Debates. Libertarians support the medical and recreational legalization of marijuana.
Johnson is currently polling at 5.3 percent nationwide, according to a recent JZ Analytics poll. But his supporters point out that when Ross Perot was included in the 1992 presidential debates — the last time a third party or independent candidate was included — Perot was polling at only around 7 percent.
“They artificially raised the bar to 15 percent,” Gray lamented during a wide-ranging interview with The Colorado Statesman following a tour of the Denver Relief medical marijuana center on Aug. 9.
Libertarians remain hopeful, noting that Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul’s supporters — who heavily align with the Libertarian values of free market economics and limited government intervention — are holding out until after the Republican National Convention later this month when presumptive nominee Mitt Romney will likely be nominated.
The party is also relying heavily on the support of marijuana and gay rights advocates, as well as fiscal conservatives and those in favor of reducing military occupations and spending — all values shared by the Libertarian Party.
That being said, Gray acknowledges that the stakes are high, stating, “If we don’t get into the debates, I confess that we’re dead.”
The former California state judge and federal prosecutor said his party’s current mission is mainly to participate in the debates. Libertarians have been bolstered by an outpouring of support from those who want to see Johnson in the fall debates between President Barack Obama and Romney, Gray stressed. Supporters have launched several social media campaigns urging the Commission on Presidential Debates to include Johnson, and as a result, the commission has not ruled out the possibility.
Johnson qualifies for the debates in two of the commission’s three categories. He qualifies by age and nationality, and he appears on enough state ballots to have a mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority in the 2012 general election. Polling is the only criteria that’s holding the party back.
But Gray says that even if the commission rejects Johnson based on national polling, the Libertarian Party is planning a lawsuit to force its way into the series of debates, the first which will be held at the University of Denver on Oct. 3.
“It is a question of the First Amendment and the 14th Amendment — equal protection and free speech,” said Gray, who went on to accuse the mainstream media of conspiring to keep Libertarians out of the debates.
“I’m not a conspiratorial guy, but there is pretty strong evidence that these people have their candidate, and they’re advocates for their candidate,” continued Gray.
He admitted that his recent campaign stop in Denver that focused on marijuana was part of a larger attempt to increase positive polling, but he added that while the focus is in part political, it is largely ideological.
“People in the medical marijuana field have no voice,” said Gray, noting that marijuana has become so prolific that it is the largest cash crop in California, followed by grapes. “If Gov. Johnson is not elected, there is no rational chance that medical marijuana dispensaries will survive within two years.”
“It isn’t working,” Gray said of the war on drugs, specifically highlighting cannabis. “You ask the first 10 teenagers you find… what is easier to get, alcohol or marijuana? And they’ll say alcohol is harder to get. The reason is because government takes ID for that and the illegal dealers don’t.”
In addition to supporting medical marijuana, Gray and Johnson are actively supporting a Colorado ballot question that asks voters this November to approve the legalization o recreational marijuana.
Kayvan Khalatbari, co-owner of Denver Relief, said opinions turned on Obama after the U.S. Department of Justice continued its crackdowns on medical marijuana centers in Colorado and California. Obama had promised the industry in 2008 that, “I’m not going to be using Justice Department resources to try to circumvent state laws on this issue.”
Attorney General Eric Holder and the Justice Department initially backed Obama’s statement in 2009. The messaging resulted in what Khalatbari described as a “gold rush,” which led to a medical cannabis industry boom.
But then Obama appeared to backtrack on his promise, allowing the Justice Department to enforce federal law, which prohibits marijuana even for medical purposes. Medical marijuana centers in California and Colorado were repeatedly raided and shut down. Just this month, the U.S. attorney’s office in Colorado issued letters to 10 medical marijuana centers notifying them that action will be taken to seize and forfeit their property if they do not discontinue the sale and/or distribution of marijuana.
Gray believes that the industry “fell for it,” referring to Obama’s initial promise.
“He probably decided that this was the way to go. What I cannot explain is why they changed direction, I can’t see any political benefit to it, but I think basically he’s just trying to show how tough he is,” said Gray.
Khalatbari, who also owns a 13,000-square-foot grow facility with 1,800 plants and 320 patients — for an electric bill of about $4,500 per month — said he approves of Johnson and Gray more so than Obama and Romney because they appear to be the only presidential candidates who clearly aren’t trying to shut the industry down.
“I think they, in the grand scheme of things, they can see that this is a personal rights issue on so many levels, and it fits in with what they believe,” said Khalatbari. “Whether it’s about cannabis or not directly, who knows?”
Personal rights as it relate to the issues
The personal rights issue that the Libertarian Party speaks of as it relates to marijuana also translates to a slew of other issues, including gun control, taxes and health care, to name a few.
For example, in the area of gun control — an issue that has been thrust into the national spotlight again following the recent senseless mass shootings in Aurora, Colo. and Oak Creek, Wis. — Gray said his party will never cave to pressure for additional regulations. While many across the country are calling for bans on high-capacity ammunition clips and assault weapons, as well as a prohibition on Internet purchases of ammunition and military armament, Gray said his party does not believe that is the solution.
“It won’t make any difference,” he said. “I’m sorry. Aurora was hideous; Columbine was hideous. But it won’t make any difference.”
“Libertarians stand up in favor of the Second Amendment, and… Romney or Obama, they are probably the enemies to people that insist on gun rights,” Gray continued.
The same philosophy of personal rights is applied to health care, according to Gray. He said Johnson would immediately work for a repeal of Obama’s federal health care law, dubbed Obamacare, because it limits the free market and relies too heavily on government entitlement programs.
Gray has no faith that Romney would repeal the law if elected president, as Romney has repeatedly promised to do.
“Romney was the architect,” he said, noting that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney supported health care reform that in many ways mirrors so-called Obamacare. “Romney is on the record in all kinds of different things — on many sides of most issues. He is the father of Obamacare. It’s in his heart, and I cannot conceive that he will orphan his child.”
As a former judge, Gray called the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to uphold the constitutionality of Obamacare a “mockery of jurisprudence.” Instead, Gray would like to see a free market approach to health care in which the individual must be the first resort, followed by family, religious institutions, charitable organizations and then the government.
“It must be repealed,” urged Gray. “We are galloping in the wrong direction. And the people of the United States are going to see, now that it’s been upheld constitutionally, they are going to see it for what it is. It is ineffective, cumbersome, unworkable and a huge tax mostly on the poor.”
The same Libertarian ideology is applied to the nation’s tax structure, said Gray. Johnson’s plan is to eliminate the IRS, repeal the income and corporate taxes, and replace them with a federal consumption tax that he calls a “fair tax” on expenditures.
Gray says there’s nothing radical about it. “It’s going back to our roots,” he said. “Thomas Jefferson and James Madison would be very pleased.”
Dividing the vote
Gray is not concerned about dividing the vote in America, pointing out that many Americans desperately desire a third party or independent candidate in the race.
A recent electoral map generated by data from ISideWith.com, an online app that connects voters with candidates based solely on their opinions on the issues, revealed that Johnson would be the next president of the United States if voters cast ballots based just on the issues.
When Johnson is included in statewide polls against Obama and Romney, he polls much higher. For instance, in New Mexico he polls at 13 percent; 9 percent in Arizona; 7 percent in Colorado; 7 percent in New Hampshire; and 8 percent in Montana.
Votes for Johnson this November could be the tipping point in battleground states like Colorado. If Johnson receives enough votes, it could cost Romney the presidential election.
Gray feels no sense of guilt for this possible scenario. He says a third presidential candidate option is what the American people want. And more importantly, said Gray, if Johnson were to be elected, he would implement a “coalition government.”
“We are going to have in our administration highly placed people, yes, that are Libertarians and independents, but also Republicans and Democrats,” said Gray. “And when one political party is giving us political trouble, we’ll say… ‘Go out and talk to your colleagues. Embrace this.’ The people of the United States of America absolutely crave this sort of government.”