From Chris Moody at THE TICKET at YAHOO!:
NAPLES, Fla. — The staff at Books-a-Million didn’t know what hit them.
In preparation for a Saturday morning book signing with Newt Gingrich, the bookstore printed numbered cards for the first 500 people looking for an autograph from the former House speaker and Republican presidential candidate. The store gave out its first card at 8 a.m. on Black Friday–27 hours before Gingrich was scheduled to arrive–and ran out before he stepped in the door. After that, the Gingrich fans had to fend for themselves.
Gingrich spent the two days after Thanksgiving on a campaign swing through Naples, Florida, a wealthy conservative stronghold in the Sunshine State that was, to say the least, extremely welcoming.
After his speech, during which he took time to clarify his position on illegal immigration, Gingrich hopped over to a $1,000-per-person fundraiser at a city council member’s home and then spent four hours the next morning at a Books-a-Million, where he brought in 650 people.
After months in the middle tier, Gingrich is the latest presidential candidate not named Mitt to ascend to the top of national polls. And with just five weeks until the first caucus in Iowa, he may have the best chance at being there when it matters. On Sunday, the largest newspaper in New Hampshire, the Union Leader, endorsed Gingrich in the Republican primary.
Although he has been in the public eye for years and seen his share of crowds, this kind of attention is new for Presidential Candidate Newt.
After his marathon Books-a-Million autograph session on Saturday, I sat down with Gingrich in a quiet corner of the store where we talked about his run for the White House and a wide range of issues.
Three Republican presidential candidates have shown an openness to handing over control of drugs and medical marijuana to the states. Would you continue the current federal policy making marijuana illegal in all cases or give the states more control?
I would continue current federal policy, largely because of the confusing signal that steps towards legalization sends to harder drugs.
I think the California experience is that medical marijuana becomes a joke. It becomes marijuana for any use. You find local doctors who will prescribe it for anybody that walks in.
Why shouldn’t the states have control over this? Why should this be a federal issue?
Because I think you guarantee that people will cross state lines if it becomes a state-by-state exemption.
I don’t have a comprehensive view. My general belief is that we ought to be much more aggressive about drug policy. And that we should recognize that the Mexican cartels are funded by Americans.
Expand on what you mean by “aggressive.”
In my mind it means having steeper economic penalties and it means having a willingness to do more drug testing.
In 1981, you introduced a bill that would allow marijuana to be used for medical purposes. What has changed?
What has changed was the number of parents I met with who said they did not want their children to get the signal from the government that it was acceptable behavior and that they were prepared to say as a matter of value that it was better to send a clear signal on no drug use at the risk of inconveniencing some people, than it was to be compassionate toward a small group at the risk of telling a much larger group that it was okay to use the drug.
It’s a change of information. Within a year of my original support of that bill I withdrew it.
Ron Paul and Barney Frank have introduced a similar bill almost every year since.
You have to admit, Ron Paul has a coherent position. It’s not mine, but it’s internally logical.
Speaking of Ron Paul, at the last debate, he said that the war on drugs has been an utter failure. We’ve spent billions of dollars since President Nixon and we still have rising levels of drug use. Should we continue down the same path given the amount of money we’ve spent? How can we reform our approach?
I think that we need to consider taking more explicit steps to make it expensive to be a drug user. It could be through testing before you get any kind of federal aid. Unemployment compensation, food stamps, you name it.
Because, if you light up a doobie, your children should starve, and you should lose your house. By the way, since Congress gets paid by the federal government, they should all be peeing in cups before they’re allowed to pick up their paychecks, right?
(The interview is about a lot of different subjects, and you can read it all at the link.)