Nearly 50 percent of adults say they have used marijuana, so just how many members of Congress fall into that camp? It's unclear, but one top House Democrat has left reporters wondering whether he's danced with Mary Jane before.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer was asked to comment on Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's decision to sign a state marijuana-decriminalization law. "The Legislature has passed it. Essentially, when you say they decriminalized it, as I understand, that means simply no consequence for a small amount and a fine for a larger amount," Hoyer told a room of reporters Tuesday. "It's clear that we have an awful lot of people in our prisons who are suffering from a criminal conviction, which have done things—I'm not going to ask for a show of hands. If I did, I could raise my hand, I just don't know how many others in the room could raise their hands."
Laughter erupted in the room, with some asking for a clarification: What are you raising your hand in saying?
"It was subtle," Hoyer said. "The use thereof, or the trying thereof, inhaling or not." An attendee offered, "experimentation," to which Hoyer repeated, "experimentation."
So has Hoyer toked up before? According to his press office, it's incorrect to infer that he said he's tried marijuana.
"Mr. Hoyer has not used marijuana," spokesperson Stephanie Young said via email. "His point was that this issue affects many people and he believes the Maryland General Assembly took the right step to decriminalize marijuana."
Hoyer has previously said that he didn't support the Maryland decriminalization bill, particularly after conversations with those in drug rehabilitation characterizing marijuana as a gateway drug that can lead to use of harder drugs. "But having said that, I certainly wouldn't criticize the governor for signing the bill," Hoyer said Tuesday.
Perhaps the real question is, which members of Congress haven't toked up? It's not as taboo as it once was for a prominent politician to admit to past usage. Recall President Clinton's infamous "I didn't inhale" line from 1992. Now we have President Obama openly discussing his past drug use.
Democratic Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado has estimated that five to 10 members of Congress are regular marijuana users (which means not just "tried once"). How did he come up with that figure? He supposed that the same proportion of members of Congress regularly use the substance as do average Americans.
Update (2:40 p.m.): In a statement later in the day, Hoyer said he was "unclear" when discussing Maryland's marijuana legislation. "The point I tried to make was that I wasn't going to ask for a show of hands of people who haven't tried marijuana – because if I did, I would probably be one of very few who could raise my hand."