Republicans and Democrats who want to ease marijuana laws say they won’t smoke pot — regardless of whether it’s legal.
Marijuana politics have changed significantly since former President Clinton famously said 22 years ago that he didn’t inhale. But politicians aren’t ready to say they would light up, at least not publicly.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) has praised his state’s new law and has introduced legislation that would legalize marijuana nationally. Asked if he had legally tried pot, Polis stepped back and shook his head, saying, “No, no, no, no.”
Does he plan to?
Polis, who said last year that marijuana legalization is “mainstream” in the Democratic Party, rarely drinks alcohol, according to sources close to the lawmaker.
Polis explained that his bill to legalize pot on a federal level “would create the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms so it’s a controlled substance to keep it away from minors and deal a blow to criminal enterprises like the drug cartels.”
Other lawmakers who have led on various marijuana-related matters wasted little time distancing themselves from using pot now or in the near future.
Colorado Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D) said, “No, I’m not going to partake, that’s not what I do, but I’m going to help it so we actually can have business transactions.”
President Obama has admitted previous drug use, but on his own terms by detailing his use of narcotics in an autobiography. In a recent interview with The New Yorker magazine, Obama said pot isn’t more dangerous than alcohol.
A number of lawmakers who have co-sponsored some of the dozen pot-related bills admitted that there is still a stigma.
Asked if it was taboo for a politician to smoke pot legally, liberal Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said, “It would be, it would be ... just like one of the worst things that can happen for a politician is to get caught driving under the influence of alcohol. It besmirches you.”
Hastings added, “I never smoked pot at all. I drank enough liquor to float the Queen Mary, but I never smoked marijuana. I never learned to inhale.”
Oregon Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer said, “I think there is probably a stigma. How many journalists come out and say, ‘I smoked dope today?’ They’ll say, ‘I did it in my youth.’ How many judges come out and say, ‘I toke up every weekend?’ ”
He added that the “the reason you don’t have business leaders, journalists, clergy people and politicians saying that they smoke is because it is still technically illegal under federal law ... that’s probably not the best position [for people] who care about their reputation, whatever their profession.”
Still, according to several national polls, more than 50 percent of the country has endorsed legalizing recreational use.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) compared the politics of pot to gay marriage.
“When I was in medical school, gay rights, people weren’t coming out of the closet. And then came the AIDS epidemic and they came out of the closet, and then 25 years later, we have gay marriage all over the place,” the 77-year old lawmaker said.
The change may have started with the legalization of medical marijuana: 20 states and the District of Columbia have medical marijuana laws.
Even though Blumenauer, a longtime advocate for easing pot restrictions, said he plans to maintain his “lifelong abstinence” of marijuana, he might reconsider that decision if he had a serious medical condition.
“I believe in medical marijuana and I wouldn’t discourage my family or myself from doing it,” Blumenauer said.
The medical marijuana movement gained a powerful ally last week when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he thinks “there’s some medical reasons for marijuana.”
Over the next five to 10 years, it’s more likely that a politician will admit to getting high, said Marijuana Policy Project Communications Director Mason Tvert.
“As more states adopt laws allowing adults to use marijuana, elected officials will be more open to discussing their personal marijuana use. They still think of it as scandalous,” Tvert said.
Tvert pointed to the recent admission of a Canadian member of parliament’s skyrocketing approval rate after admitting to marijuana use.
Polis concedes that “smoking marijuana is dangerous just as smoking cigarettes are and drinking in excess.”
Some lawmakers in Colorado and Washington who opposed legal recreational pot use say they are dealing with uncomfortable issues.
Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.) doesn’t know what to say when “excited” high school students ask her to discuss legal pot use.
She acknowledges that the new law states that you must be 21 or older to legally smoke pot in Washington
Still, she says that “if the argument is ‘It doesn’t hurt you,’ what are we telling our kids? That’s what I’m focusing on: what are we communicating to the next generation and what are we doing for them? It’s not really about how much fun we can have.”
GOP Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman said, “I don’t want to show up at some event and somebody’s got ... something home made [with pot in it] ... I’m just so paranoid that some day I’m just going to be all wiped out because somebody gave me something.”This article was updated Jan. 22 at 12:33 p.m.