Dem whip Hoyer: Keep pot illegal

Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer (D) this week said he's opposed to laws legalizing marijuana.

While Maryland legislators are expected to take up several proposals to legalize the drug this year, the Democratic minority whip said he's concerned it’s a gateway to harsher narcotics.

"I'm not a proponent of the legalization of marijuana," Hoyer said Thursday during a taping of C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" program, which will air Sunday.

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The position puts Hoyer on the same page as Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), but at odds with a recent shift in public opinion.

O'Malley said earlier in the week that he's "not much in favor" of the legalization proposals members of the state's General Assembly plan to introduce in both chambers this year.

“I’ve seen what drug addiction has done to the people of our state and the people of our city,” O'Malley said Wednesday in an interview with Baltimore's WEAA radio station.

Public sentiment, meanwhile, has shifted sharply in favor of legalization in recent years. A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Monday found that 55 percent of Americans support the move to legalize the drug — up 12 points from 2012 and 39 points from 25 years ago.

A Gallup poll released in October put the level of support at 58 percent.

Interest in decriminalizing marijuana has skyrocketed since voters in Colorado and Washington state voted last year to legalize the drug for recreational use.

While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Justice Department announced last year that it wouldn’t attempt to block state efforts to legalize it. Colorado venders began selling it openly on Jan. 1.

"By regulating marijuana like alcohol, Colorado voters hope to reduce crime and keep marijuana away from kids," Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said as the sales began.

Along with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Polis has sponsored legislation to eliminate the federal laws criminalizing the drug.

At least 18 other states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana to some extent, though most of those laws relate to the treatment of medical conditions and require a doctor's prescription.

Hoyer this week noted that a former Baltimore mayor, Kurt Schmoke, had advocated for legalizing pot several decades ago. Hoyer said he supported that move at the time, but has since changed his tune based on his discussions with drug-treatment experts.

"My initial reaction was a positive one," Hoyer said. "Then as I talked to people who deal with drug abuse issues, with rehabilitation issues, I became convinced that marijuana was, in fact, a threshold drug and that it would lead to the use of harder, very harmful drugs."

The "Newsmakers" program will be broadcast Sunday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.