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Why Gary Johnson Won't Shut Up About Marijuana

In reporting my profile of Gary Johnson in this month's issue of The Atlantic, one of the things I discovered is that his advisers used to tell him not to talk about pot so much. It made him too easy to pigeonhole as the stoner candidate, not to be taken seriously.

But in his 2012 campaign as the nominee of the Libertarian Party, Johnson has instead made marijuana legalization one of his signature issues. In an ad he hopes to air, highlighted by Conor Friedersdorf in July, Johnson calls President Obama a hypocrite for continuing to prosecute pot smokers even though, as David Maraniss's recent biography revealed, Obama was a member of a high-school dope-smoking clique called the Choom Gang.

Part of the reason Johnson talks about legalization is that it gets him attention, and as I noted, attention is the thing he most needs as he strains to get traction in a political landscape hostile to minor-party candidates. (Johnson has an ambivalent attitude toward this exhibitionistic endeavor, however; in the piece, he derides the idea of attention-getting campaign stunts as equivalent to streaking, and he told me he was relieved when the loudspeaker on his campaign bus turned out to be broken. "It would have been awkward. I'm the first one to say, 'Shut that off,'" he said. "It's like war has been declared and this vehicle is going down the road telling everybody, 'The bombs are coming! Flee!'")

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