Gary Johnson Tries to Inject Pot Legalization Into the Presidential Race

His new advertisement compares alcohol prohibition to the War on Drugs. Do enough Americans agree to give the issue resonance?



Earlier this month, anonymous associates of President Obama whispered to Marc Ambinder that "if the president wins a second term, he plans to tackle another American war that has so far been successful only in perpetuating more misery: the four decades of The Drug War." The news was greeted with skepticism due to the fact that Obama broke prior promises about federal targeting of medical marijuana facilities and has zealously prosecuted current drug policy.

In a country where 50 percent of the population now favors legalizing marijuana, the Republican Party's candidate, Mitt Romney, is even less likely to take that course. Here he is angrily dismissing its importance.

That's the context for Gary Johnson's new advertisement, above. He isn't the first Libertarian Party nominee to favor legalizing marijuana. But he is the first to do so in a country where more people agree with his position on the subject than the positions of the Republican or Democratic candidate. He attacks the positions of both Romney and Obama, pointing out that the latter cracked down on marijuana despite the fact that he "famously smoked it." Had Obama been arrested and jailed after doing so he almost certainly wouldn't be president today.

Johnson isn't remotely competitive with his opponents in opinion polls. He suffers from poor name recognition and a dearth of funds. But he is a credible advocate for a position that many Americans hold and neither major party is addressing. Whether the national media will permit him to challenge his opponents in any form other than paid advertisements remains to be seen.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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