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Republican challenger Jonathan Johnson is staking out stark differences between himself and GOP Gov. Gary Herbert on two contentious issues by coming out in favor of privatizing state liquor stores and supporting a limited medical-marijuana bill.
Johnson's views put him squarely in the libertarian camp of the Republican Party and offer a sneak peek of how he will differentiate himself from Herbert.
Liquor stores • Johnson said state audits have shown that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) doesn't do a good job at distributing and selling liquor.
"We could have all the same safeguards on regulating, taxing and distribution without having liquor stores run by the state," he said.
Herbert has opposed store privatization, arguing it could cost some of the $145 million in revenue from taxes and sales that DABC pumps back into the state budget, and that the current system effectively curbs excessive consumption.
Johnson contends privatization doesn't mean more stores or more consumption. "We're not going to go willy-nilly, giving liquor licenses so there's liquor on every corner."
Proposals to privatize stores essentially running them as franchises have been floated at the Capitol for years, but have never gained any traction.
Medical marijuana • Johnson also said he would support "a very narrowly tailored medical-marijuana bill that deals with real doctors making prescriptions for marijuana that is grown in a medical environment with proper chemical balancing for specifically enumerated illnesses."
During the legislative session earlier this year, Herbert opposed proposals to legalize medical marijuana, saying it could be a "slippery slope" and lead to recreational use of the drug. More recently, however, he has said he is "open to the idea of medical marijuana," but there are numerous questions to be resolved about how to control the growth and distribution, who can prescribe it and for what conditions.