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Why Legalization Supporters Still Have Hope When Sanders Ends His Campaign

The 2016 U.S. presidential election has been an interesting one - entertaining, if not downright depressing.

Outsiders, who have aggressively challenged and attacked the establishment of the Republican and Democratic parties have done well this election cycle. A year ago, who would have expected the ascension of two fiery populists: Donald Trump, a misogynistic, xenophobic billionaire whose claim-to-fame is a reality TV show; and Bernie Sanders, a socialist from Vermont who champions a version of Sweden's socialist utopia (albeit a 1970s version)?

Yet, despite Senator Sanders' popularity and primary success, a Clinton nomination is all but a done deal, leaving millions of potential voters - particularly, independents, who now make up the largest voting block, and #NeverTrump, #NeverHillary voters - feeling disenfranchised.

And, when Sanders ultimately exits the race, who will be left to talk about issues such as the failed drug war or cannabis legalization?

Simon says: The soon-to-be named Libertarian Party candidate.

Much of the press attention has been garnered by former New Mexico governor and cannabis industry executive Gary Johnson. But what about anti-establishment Libertarian up-and-comer Austin Petersen?

Petersen, a self-described constitutional libertarian who's unafraid of challenging "The Establishment" in his own party has been active in the Libertarian Party since 2008. He got his start with a job at the Libertarian National Committee and later with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. After that, he became an associate producer for Judge Andrew Napolitano's show, "FreedomWatch," on the Fox Business Network.

When "FreedomWatch" was cancelled, he founded one of the most popular libertarian news magazines, The Libertarian Republic.

The party is experiencing a surge of new members and has recently been polling in double digits in theoretical match-ups with presumptive nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Beyond general disenfranchisement of the electorate, some of this success may be attributed to Petersen's savvy use of social media to reach beyond the Libertarian loyal to libertarian-leaning voters who typically support Republicans.

Gary Johnson, above, is the Libertarian frontrunner but Austin Petersen could win in the 'year of the outsider.' Flickr / Gage Skidmore

Currently, Libertarian Party candidates include Johnson, eccentric entrepreneur and wild man John McAfee, and Petersen, the self-described establishment outsider.

Because Johnson has significant political experience as a former governor and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential candidate, he has been the favorite in this race. But, in the "year of the outsider," anything could happen. Petersen has appeal beyond the Libertarian Party: earning praise from influential conservative journal, the National Review, an endorsement from political analyst Mary Matlin, and nearly securing an endorsement from Glenn Beck, founder of the popular news and entertainment network, The Blaze.

If Petersen, who views 2015 as a "breakthrough year" for the Libertarian Party, manages to win the nomination, he may be a tempting alternative to the major-party candidates. We asked the candidate what his views are on a range of issues, from the failed War on Drugs to cannabis legalization. Here's what he had to say:

Can you share with us a little bit about your background and why you're running for president?

I was born in Independence, Missouri. Raised on a farm in Peculiar, which is a short drive from a town called Liberty. I've been a Libertarian my whole life.

Having grown up on the family farm working with my father, I learned how valuable a hard day's work is. l learned how to bale hay, drive a tractor, and how to shoot and respect a gun. And, I've always been very socially tolerant, believing in the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I decided to run for president, because I feel I'm the best person to bring this message to the American people in a manner that they're going to find palatable and so exciting that they'll want to join us in our cause so that together we can take over the government to leave everyone alone!

We are experiencing a major drug epidemic that many describe as the worst in history. As President, how would you address the drug crisis?

Let's first acknowledge what is causing the drug crisis. The War on Drugs has made things far worse. We treat people who take drugs as criminals when people who are addicted to drugs have a medical problem. How would I deal with it? I would end the War on Drugs. The states need to be able to decide what their own drug policies are.

I believe drugs should be legalized, but I'm smart enough to realize that states need to have some amount of control of their own regional laws and customs. But I do believe the Federal War on Drugs has gone way too far.

If you take drugs and commit a crime, that's a different story. But, that's already against the law. But when you're smoking a bong in your mom's basement, you're not harming anyone. So whether you think it's an epidemic or not, it's really none of the federal government's business. Because domestically the federal government's job is not to protect our health or safety. Their number one responsibility to is to protect our individual rights and liberty.

Recently, there was a push in the state of Maine to incorporate cannabis as a part of a harm-reduction program and provide heroin abusers with an alternative — or substitute — for heroin or prescription opioid abuse. It was met with quite a bit of resistance by the drug warriors. As President, would you consider employing cannabis as part of a harm-reduction policy?

Under my administration, there would be no drug policy, because the federal government really has no role or authority to legislate or administer a War on Drugs. I would issue a demand to the head of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) that he schedule all drugs to zero. That would effectively end the DEA and kick drug policy back to the states. I won't officially have a drug policy, because it's none of the President's business. It's not his job.

Would it be fair to say the DEA would be one of the first agencies to go under a Petersen administration?

The DEA would go first and the reason why is that they're the easiest target. If I reschedule all drugs to zero — which is descheduling — the DEA has no enforcement authority. So they would effectively be ended.

What are your thoughts on Donald Trump?

Build a wall around Donald Trump and make Bernie Sanders pay for it.

In closing, can you sum up your position on cannabis, and drugs?

Let's recognize that the scourge of marijuana prohibition — and drug prohibition — claims more victims than just those we imprison simply due to our desire to punish those who engage in a vice or a viable alternative medical treatment. We should deschedule all drugs at the federal level and end the federal War on Drugs once and for all. Drug abuse is a medical problem, not a criminal problem.

Clearly, we should allow states to set their own drug policies and regulations. Although I firmly believe in the sovereignty of the individual to choose what they should or shouldn't put in their body, some states may choose to continue prohibition. That's their choice.

Nonetheless, I believe elected leaders should stand for truth, justice, and the American way. There's nothing American about banning a drug which is objectively more harmless than cocktails.

Jeremy Kossen is a writer, podcaster, best-selling author, entrepreneur and communications strategist based in San Francisco.

banner image: Flickr / Gage Skidmore


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