By Austin Baird | News & Observer
CHAPEL HILL – During a two-day campaign swing through North Carolina, Libertarian vice presidential hopeful Jim Gray stopped on Tuesday at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill to rail against U.S. drug policy.
The crowd that showed up for the noon event numbered just over a dozen. Most were students plugged into campus libertarian groups. Pockets of students scattered elsewhere throughout the student union conspicuously outnumbered those in the lecture hall listening to Gray lay out his case that drug prohibition is an issue “second only to slavery.”
Even with the slight crowd, the retired superior court judge from California, who is on the ticket with former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, spoke of his transformation from a conservative and loyal supporter of the drug war to an outspoken advocate of drug policies along the lines of those in Portugal, which since 2001 has been held up as an example by libertarians for its decriminalization of drug use in favor of treatment.
Gray and Johnson support decriminalization — unlike their Republican and Democratic opponents — but Gray was sure to make a distinction: decriminalization doesn’t mean legalization. It means that illicit substances, like marijuana and cocaine, would be regulated similar to alcohol or prescription medication, whereas full legalization would mean such substances could be sold over-the-counter.
Gray said the case of Portugal has shown that crimes commonly associated with drug use, like prostitution and burglary, would decrease as a result.
In an interview after the event, Gray mimicked what his runningmate said during a visit to Charlotte: being included in the debate is key for the Libertarian ticket to take off.
“It can’t be understated,” he said.
For that to happen, they need to reach 15 percent in the polls, though Gray said an appeal has been made to the Commission on Presidential Debates and the option of filing lawsuits has not been ruled out.
Johnson plans to speak at a Sept. 6 protest at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, and he will visit the state again in late September.
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