Gary Johnson – President of Cannabis Sativa Inc., Former 2-Term Governor of New Mexico and 2012 United States Presidential Candidate
Gary Johnson, in addition to being a former 2-Term Governor of New Mexico and a 2012 United States Presidential candidate, is also one of the cannabis industry’s biggest political advocates. Recently, he made a transition that is rarely seen in America today, and that is the shift from high level politics to cannabis. While Gary may or may not be a candidate for President again in 2016, he is already the President of Cannabis Sativa Inc., a company poised to innovate the future of casual cannabis by branding and marketing the highest-quality consumer products available. Gary’s accomplishments span a much wider range than just politics; He has climbed the highest mountain on each of the 7 continents including Mt. Everest and he is likely in better shape, at the age of 62, than anyone you know. Now, if you are anything like us, then you have a million questions you would want to ask a guy like him. Fortunately, we caught up with Gary at the break of dawn before he had a chance to get off and running for the day!
You ran for President of the United States back in 2012 as the Libertarian candidate. Where is your 2016 campaign at currently?
I am not yet a declared candidate. It is something that I hope to do, but for me to be a declared a candidate, all sorts of rules apply that I just really don’t want to be a part of. But like I said, it is my hope to be able to run as a Libertarian party nominee.
I’ve come front and center with just how rigged it is and really part of that is the presidential debates that exclude everyone but Democrats and Republicans from participating.
You completed the most successful third-party campaign in the history of America back in 2012. Over 1.2 million votes had your back. How did that make you feel?
I was disappointed. I should like to clarify that that campaign would be the most successful, most votes captured by a Libertarian candidate, but there have been third-party runs that have been much more successful than my own. If you look at John Anderson, if you look at Ross Perot, or Ralph Nader; They garnered more of the percentage vote than I did.
Even though it was the best run by a Libertarian candidate, it was still disappointing. I thought there would have been more votes, but there wasn’t. I’m not delusional about this process and in that context we are suing the presidential debate commission. Basically it’s a rigged game. I’ve come front and center with just how rigged it is and part of that is really the presidential debates that exclude everyone but Democrats and Republicans from participating.
Would you say that’s a bigger micro-chasm of the political system overall?
The debates are set up by Republicans and Democrats. They have no desire whatsoever to see anyone but a Republican or a Democrat on that stage. 80% of Americans right now say that they would like to sees a third-party candidate and 42% of Americans right now are registered as independent. That’s the largest political affiliation in the country, and yet no one really has any idea as to why that’s the case. Well, the presidential debates are a big part of that.
80% of Americans right now say that they would like to sees a third-party candidate and 42% of Americans right now are registered as independent.
In your mind what do you think is holding back the federal legalization of cannabis in America?
Right now, I believe that it’s a five-year time frame for when cannabis becomes legal in all the states. I think that California will vote ‘yes’ to legalize cannabis at the ballot box in 2016 and that will provide an immediate trickle-down effect. Overnight, you will see twenty or more state legislatures send it to their governors and they will sign off on it. Up until now, legalization of cannabis has, for the most part, with the exception of just a few, been a ballot box initiative. In 2016, I think that will change.
What could the federal government be doing? There’s no excuse for Obama to not de-schedule cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic, which would go a long way towards getting this right, if you will, nationwide. That power to reclassify cannabis as something other than a Schedule 1 narcotic lies with the surgeon general and of course, the surgeon general has a job because of Obama.
Let’s say that you ran successful presidential campaign. You’re elected. What would you do to impact the cannabis industry?
Well, apart from legislating cannabis of course, I’m dotting I’s and crossing T’s to make cannabis completely non-criminal from a federal standpoint. Apart from that, as President of the United States, I would immediately deschedule cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic and start a process of pardoning and releasing those who have been convicted for nonviolent drug crimes. For the most part, federal prison is made up of individuals who have been caught selling small amounts of drugs on numerous occasions, leading to mandatory sentencing.
Up until now, legalization of cannabis has, for the most part, with the exception of just a few, been a ballot box initiative. In 2016, I think that will change.
That same phenomenon occurred after the prohibition of alcohol was appealed. It’s kind of an untold story really, about the pardoning of those that had been convicted and the releasing of those that were currently in prison. Currently, it is my understanding that there are fifty people in federal prison or in prison nationwide on life sentences for selling cannabis. Now, I understand that in a lot of cases, they might be large quantities of cannabis, but in the prohibition that we’re currently living through and have lived through, somebody’s got to sell those large quantities.
What do you think the benefits are to American in terms of full legalization?
I genuinely believe, and this is one of the reasons I began working with Cannabis Sativa Inc., that cannabis makes the world a better place. When you look at medical cannabis, our product directly competes with legal prescription drugs, from the standpoint of painkillers, anti-depressants and of course, the list goes on and on and on. But our products are as effective, if not more effective. Our products don’t kill people. Statistically, legal prescription drugs kill 100,000 people a year. On the recreational side, I have always maintained that legalizing cannabis will lead to less overall substance abuse because people will find it to be a safer alternative than other substances out there.
Our products don’t kill people. Statistically, legal prescription drugs kill 100,000 people a year.
When you see other countries with a more progressive cannabis policy, how does that make you feel about the state of America?
Actually, there are only five places in the world where cannabis is truly legal. Don’t get me wrong, other countries have said that they’re going to put legalization in place, but they really haven’t yet. Alaska, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. are the only places in America. Uruguay, I guess, has said all the right things. Portugal has effectively decriminalized all drug use and Holland has the same drug laws on the books that we do; It’s just that they’ve chosen to ignore those laws. Really, the United States is leading this charge and it doesn’t make me feel good about this country because this country should have never prohibited this in the first place. The incarceration of tens of thousands of individuals combined with the fact that we’ve got millions of Americans with felonies that, were it not for our drug laws, would otherwise be tax-paying law-abiding citizens.
You have spent a good amount of time around other politicians. How many politicians would you say are openly pro-cannabis?
There are really none, which is amazing to me considering that 58% of Americans support legalizing cannabis. Among politicians at the federal level; congressmen, senators, governors; there are none. They might be mouthing a few nice words, but really the number is zero. On the local level, yes, it’s happening more and more, but relative to 58% of Americans supporting it, politicians are being left in the dust by this.
Right now, you have a situation where the majority is the 58% of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis and the minority says, ‘Not only can you not use cannabis, but you belong in jail if you do’. That’s the definition of tyranny.
I’d like to point something out that people should be outraged over. I think the US Constitution exists to protect the minority against the will of the majority. The Bill of Rights. That’s what the US Constitution is all about. Right now, you have a situation where the majority is the 58% of Americans supporting the legalization of cannabis and the minority says, ‘Not only can you not use cannabis, but you belong in jail if you do’. That’s the definition of tyranny. That’s the definition of the minority ruling over the majority and putting the majority in jail for something. That’s the classical definition of fascist. It represents the rise of power of a minority that holds grip over a majority by putting them in jail.
Gary were you always a pro-cannabis advocate or did you have to kind of come out of the cannabis closet?
In 1999, I was introduced at an event in Colorado leading up the vote on the legalization of cannabis. The gentleman who introduced me said, “I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news. The good news is I’m going to introduce Governor Gary Johnson, the highest ranking public official to ever advocate on the part of legalizing cannabis. The bad news is, Gary Johnson is still the highest ranking elected official ever to advocate on the part of cannabis.”
For me, starting my second term as governor, this was something that I took a really hard look at. Based on the evidence that I saw, there was no other course than legalizing cannabis and I really began to advocate for legalization at that time. Basically, my last four years in office, I probably debated and talked about this issue more than anything else, simply because people were genuinely interested in what I had to say. People were recognizing that what we were doing was not working. It was and still is very, very costly. We were locking up our friends, family, and coworkers. They might not be making the smartest choices, but do they belong in jail for it? Well, they’re not harming anyone other than arguably themselves.
Have you dealt with any politicians who wanted to know more about it? Have any closet advocates come to you in secret and said ‘I want to know more, but I just don’t have that option?’
Yeah. Many, many, many. During my last term in office, my last four years, I found that phenomenon growing. As it went along, more and more politicians, some from the the highest levels of government, came to me. I was associating with these people and they genuinely wanted to know what was going on. Privately, those were the conversations we were having.
When do you think the cannabis industry is going to have a real say in politics? How soon will a presidential candidate have to be in touch with the cannabis community to win an election? Do you think it will be in the year 2020? 2024?
Well, I hope that’s the case in 2016. This ought to be a millennial issue amongst millennials and it should be an issue for everybody, given the resources that go into it. I really believe that the idea of cannabis prohibition has passed and it could well be 2016 that this is the case.
If I were to offer prediction today, it would be Hillary against Jeb. Is that really where we are at in this country, where we only have two families that can govern? I guess so.
What do you think of the crop of 2016 presidential candidates so far? If you couldn’t vote for yourself, who do you think would be the right fit for this country?
Based on what I’m seeing right now, I would vote the libertarian nominee, whoever that will be. If I were to offer prediction today, it would be Hillary against Jeb. Is that really where we are at in this country, where we only have two families that can govern? I guess so.
Who do you think would be the worst option for the country to the cannabis industry?
Well, certainly there are a bunch in that category. The first terrible choice that comes to mind is Chris Christie. That guy’s horrible.
You were a two-term governor of New Mexico. How would you describe the legacy that you left in New Mexico now that you’ve had a good time to kind of reflect on it?
I think my legacy is the fact that I genuinely was an effective governor. In my heart of hearts, we took on all the issues. It wasn’t just cannabis. That’s the one that gets a lot of attention, but it was A through Z, and these were issues that needed to be addressed and we did just that. I was fiscally conservative, as fiscally conservative as any governor in the country. From a civil liberties standpoint, I think I did better than any other governor in the entire country. For the most part, that’s who people are. With a broad brush stroke, I think people are fiscally conservative and socially liberal.
While in office, you earned the nickname Veto Johnson or Governor Veto, because you used your veto powers more than most other governors. Why do you think you had to use it so much and should the public see that as a good thing or a bad thing?
In fact, I may have vetoed more legislation as governor than the other 49 governors in the country combined. That’s how much I used that veto pen. New Mexico is a state that’s 2 to 1 Democrat. I got elected as a Republican. I vetoed that many bills and for the most part, they were spending bills. Wouldn’t you think that I would’ve just got ridden out on a rail as opposed to getting re-elected by a bigger margin the second time than the first time? All of what I just said speaks to the fact that people liked the veto.
I have always maintained that legalizing cannabis will lead to less overall substance abuse because people will find it to be a safer alternative than other substances out there.
What is the goal of Cannabis Sativa, Inc.?
The goal is to brand the best cannabis products in the world. The same brand recognition that comes with Coca Cola; That’s what we hope to be. We hope to cultivate a business that becomes so big that we need a thousand bottlers to bottle our product. That is our long-term goal and we are working towards it. That would be under the overarching trademark brand name ‘hi’. We believe that, at some point, we can bring in a billion dollars worth of swag sales because it’s a great logo that people will want to wear. People will put it on their car because of what it says, ‘hi’. In my opinion, ‘hi’ sends the message that we’d like the cannabis industry to have. There’s nothing threatening about this.
In my opinion, ‘hi’ sends the message that we’d like the cannabis industry to have. There’s nothing threatening about this.
You joined the company as the president a short while back. Given that you want to take it to being a billion dollar company, where are you guys at right now?
For the moment, we still label it as a start-up. We’ve really been trying to grab for the brass ring and we keep grinding it out. Although it is a start-up, everyone is knocking on the door to work with us, so I truly believe that the model that I described earlier will actually prevail at some point, but it’s not magic. It’s grinding it out. We’re grinding it out.
One of the big impediments to the industry right now is that, in the 24 states where it’s legal medicinally and 4+ states that have adult recreational use, everything that gets sold in those states has to be grown, processed, and packaged in those states by, for the most part, residents of those states. Ultimately, that is no good for the consumer. Pretty soon, that is going to change, but right now it is a tough model to operate in. That’s the barrier that we really have to overcome. Our company, Cannabis Sativa Inc., can’t go in and start manufacturing in Colorado. It’s against the law. We can’t go into any state directly and manufacture. That is something that needs to change, and it will.
Being a former governor and presidential candidate, how do you think your presence impacts the image of the industry as a whole? What does that do for Cannabis Sativa Inc. to have a leader like yourself who’s so reputable?
I think my professional and political background opens doors more than anything. Of course, opening doors is one thing. Once you get in the door, you have to actually offer something of value. Believe me, we’re working really, really hard to have a great offering to go along with knock, knock, ‘Come talk with us’. Everybody opens the door, now I’m focused on what happens next. To date we’re still a start-up, kind of posers in this whole thing. I think my experience and reputation could help propel Cannabis Sativa Inc. to the next level.
I think my professional and political background opens doors more than anything. Of course, opening doors is one thing. Once you get in the door, you have to actually offer something of value.
What does Gary Johnson do in his free time?
I built my dream home up here in Taos, New Mexico. One of my passions is snow skiing, so I ski a hundred days a season at Taos. Taos is as good of skiing as anywhere on the planet. Off-season, I mountain bike, road bike, run and swim. I’m about as fit a 62 year-old as you’re going to find.
Have you done a marathon or a triathlete event recently, or is that in your past?
Competing from a mountain bike standpoint is not in the past, no. I still compete. I competed in skiing events this winter and I do still compete in cycling events. I train as much as ever and I do well for being a 62 year-old. I’m finding myself middle of the pack now when it comes to the overall race, which is not a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with that.
I’m about as fit a 62 year-old as you’re going to find.
Are you still dominating your age group ? That’s the question.
Yeah, you could say that. I’m doing very well for my age group!
I want to talk about your climbing Mt. Everest. Now to my knowledge, no US president has ever done that, by the way. Was that the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
I don’t think so, but it kind of epitomizes my life, I think. My goal was to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. In December, I went and climbed Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, which for me was the seventh of the seven.
My goal was to climb the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. In December, I went and climbed Mt. Vinson in Antarctica, which for me was the seventh of the seven.
It took 21 years to accomplish. It wasn’t a do or die kind of thing, but I did work at it. People ask me, “Hey, what kind of training do you do to do these things?” Well, just my ordinary life. I believe I could go and climb Mt. Everest tomorrow. That’s the fitness level that I have.
If you had to advise someone to enter the cannabis industry or politics, which would you tell them to go into and why?
I don’t know if I’d advise anyone to go into politics, but I think there’s some really big opportunities in the cannabis industry and I think it is way more fun. It’s just fun to be involved in something so irreverent and something so cutting-edge. In that regard, I would advise anybody that wanted to know to, yeah, give the cannabis industry a shot. See what happens. I think that if you are an absolute small operator, if you have goals to be in your state running a dispensary, cultivation system or the whole chain, that that opportunity is still wide open for anybody who wishes to pursue it. That person, at some point, is going to need a partner to be able to have the manufacturing equipment needed to produce the best product. That’s where we come in. We really want to go out and make partners with a thousand of those pot entrepreneurs that are small time. By small time, we’re just going to give them a ‘Coca Cola’ product, or a ‘Coca Cola’ line that they can fulfil just like a bottler would fill Coke cans. That goes back to my analogy of what we hope our business will end up being.
For me, money has always represented freedom, not possessions, and it doesn’t take that much money to have freedom.
Who has been the biggest influence to you in your life?
I take bits and pieces from a lot of people. My main influences seem to come from people who have made mistakes or have not lived their life to the fullest potential, as opposed to those who have. I look at people that aren’t successful, those who aren’t living their lives to the fullest, and that gives me great energy. Certainly more than looking at people who have achieved success.
What is success? For me, money has always represented freedom, not possessions, and it doesn’t take that much money to have freedom. I’ve had the good fortune to have achieved that. I can do what I want to do when I want to do it. It’s not a first-class ticket anywhere. I’m very, very frugal, but that’s success for me. That’s what I’ve always deemed success to be and on that basis, I’ve achieved it. It’s something I’m really proud of.
Can you suggest a book that you’ve read lately that maybe our entrepreneurs can check out?
One of my recent favorites is the survival epic, “In the Kingdom of Ice” by Hampton Sides.
From an entrepreneurial standpoint, anybody that believes themselves to be an entrepreneur should read, “Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. That’s kind of an entrepreneur’s bible, if you will.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
It’s the advice that I give out, and it wasn’t advice that I got, but my advice to anybody, and it’s worth exactly what you’re paying for it, which is nothing. My advice to anyone is take whatever skill you have, whatever it is, and apply it entrepreneurially. It’ll never, ever be easier to do that then tomorrow, and it’ll be unbelievably difficult to do it tomorrow, but never, ever will it be easier than doing it tomorrow. So, take what you do best, do it as an entrepreneur and the rewards will be a hundred fold over just having a job.
How do you think the migration of Greg Johnson from politics to cannabis impacts the overall landscape of the cannabis industry? How about public perception? Join the conversation and comment below!