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
Add to Briefcase
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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