Has House Democratic Leadership Smoked Pot?

One top Dem created some confusion Tuesday morning. But there’s no doubt that times are changing.

Marijuana leaves. 
National Journal
Elahe Izad
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Elahe Izad
April 8, 2014, 8:48 a.m.

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.”

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