By Mike Lillis
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Tuesday he's never smoked marijuana, just hours after suggesting he'd experimented with the drug, whether "inhaling or not."
"To be clear, I have not used marijuana," Hoyer said.
"It's clear that we have an awful lot of people in our prisons, or suffering from a criminal conviction, [who] have done things that — I'm not going to ask for a show of hands. If I did, I could raise my hand," he said, a hand in the air.
Asked by a reporter what his raised hand signified, Hoyer was elusive.
"It was subtle," he said to laughter. "The use thereof. Or the trying thereof — inhaling or not. Experimentation."
Many in the room took that as an indication that Hoyer had sampled the drug at some point in his 74 years.
Not so, the Maryland Democrat said later in the day.
"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," he said.
Earlier in the year, Hoyer had come out against a series of Maryland proposals moving the state closer to legalizing marijuana, citing warnings from public health workers that the drug is a gateway to more dangerous narcotics.
But on Tuesday, he said he's had a change of heart in relation to Maryland's decriminalization bill.
"This issue affects many people in my home state and throughout the country, including those who are nonviolent offenders suffering in prison from a criminal conviction over possession," he said. "While I indicated early on that I was not in support of legalization of marijuana, I do believe Gov. [Martin] O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly are taking the right step to decriminalize the possession of small amounts."
O'Malley has said he'll soon sign the bill into law.