How Many Members of Congress Use Marijuana?

Rep. Jared Polis has a guess.

Medicinal marijuana user Dave Karp smokes marijuana at the Berkeley Patients Group March 25, 2010 in Berkeley, California.
National Journal
Elahe Izad
March 13, 2014, 11:27 a.m.

Con­gress is prob­ably the most likely place to harsh your mel­low, but could some law­makers be reg­u­lar weed users?

Col­or­ado Demo­crat Jared Pol­is, one of the lead­ing ad­voc­ates for fed­er­al marijuana leg­al­iz­a­tion, es­tim­ates a hand­ful of his col­leagues use marijuana.

“I don’t think more than five or 10 I would guess,” he said at a Na­tion­al Can­nabis In­dustry As­so­ci­ation Cap­it­ol Hill brief­ing Thursday. “But I really wouldn’t know be­cause I haven’t seen them use it. I would just be com­pletely guess­ing.”

In his re­marks, promp­ted by a ques­tion from Ya­hoo’s Chris Moody and cap­tured here on video by PostTV, Pol­is went on to cite stat­ist­ics on marijuana use to back up his es­tim­ate. He says the av­er­age age of mem­bers is 60, and if 5 per­cent of 60-year-olds use marijuana, it’s likely the same in the House.

“We’re pretty typ­ic­al. People think, ‘Oh, mem­bers of Con­gress are so dif­fer­ent.’ No, they’re ac­tu­ally pretty nor­mal,” Pol­is said. “That’s why when you hear about one who had an af­fair or something, well, if you take any group of 435 people, you’re go­ing to have a couple who com­mit af­fairs.”

Well, we here at Na­tion­al Journ­al de­cided to crunch the num­bers and see if, us­ing Pol­is’ reas­on­ing, his es­tim­ate stacks up against the evid­ence.

In 2012, just 3.6 per­cent of adults 50 to 64 ad­mit­ted to hav­ing used drugs (in­clud­ing oth­ers aside from marijuana) in the past month, ac­cord­ing to a Health and Hu­man Ser­vices sur­vey. When it comes to marijuana, 7.3 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans 12 and older said they used it in the past month.

Adults 30 to 64 are the most likely to have used marijuana, a 2013 Gal­lup sur­vey finds. But that doesn’t mean they’re cur­rently us­ing it. And while 44 per­cent of 50- to 64-year-olds ad­mit­ted to hav­ing tried marijuana, just 5 per­cent say they reg­u­larly use it. For those 65 and older, 17 per­cent said they have tried it be­fore, while just 1 per­cent still use it.

And as of Janu­ary, the av­er­age age of House mem­bers was 57, ac­cord­ing to the Con­gres­sion­al Re­search Ser­vice.

So us­ing the Pol­is lo­gic, any­where from 1 to 5 per­cent of mem­bers could ac­tu­ally be us­ing marijuana — mean­ing any­where from four to 20 mem­bers. But it’s still highly de­bat­able wheth­er mem­bers of Con­gress — the ma­jor­ity of whom are mil­lion­aires — are just like the rest of us.

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