Politicians' Drugs, in Order of Acceptability: Cocktails, Cannabis, Cocaine

Trey Radel campaign adTrey Radel campaign adOur three most recent presidents all admitted (some more forthrightly than others) that they had tried marijuana, and survey data suggest that something like half of all politicians (assuming they resemble the general population in this respect) have done so as well. But how do Americans feel about politicians for whom pot smoking is an ongoing pastime rather than a youthful indiscretion?

According to the latest Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey, most would not mind if they learned that a public official unwinds with a few puffs of cannabis in his spare time instead of a cocktail or two. Fifty-two percent of respondents said they would "still support" such a politician. Forty-three percent said they would not, however, and I suspect that is a lot higher than the percentage who would reject a candidate based on his after-work tippling.

Although some recent polls find majority support for legalizing marijuana, many Americans evidently still believe alcohol is morally superior. Their numbers seem to be shrinking, however. In a 2006 Pew Research Center survey, 50 percent of respondents said smoking pot is "morally wrong," compared to 45 percent who said it was either "morally acceptable" or "not a moral issue." This year Pew found those numbers had shifted substantially: Only 32 percent deemed marijuana consumption "morally wrong," while 62 percent did not find it morally troubling. Still, if you take the third or so who deem marijuana morally objectionable and add people who believe it is wrong for public officials to break the law (even when the law is irrational or unjust), you can see how two-fifths of Americans might abandon a pot-smoking politician.  

As you might expect, younger people are more accepting of a politician's marijuana use: In the Reason-Rupe survey, 65 percent of respondents younger than 35 said it was no big deal, compared to 50 percent of 35-to-54-year-olds and 44 percent of respondents 55 or older. That pattern is similar to the age trend in support for legalizing marijuana, which was 49 percent overall in this poll but 56 percent in the under-35 group.

A cannabis-consuming candidate is in a much more favorable position than one who favors cocaine. A whopping 85 percent of respondents said they would "no longer support" a public official who "uses cocaine occasionally in his or her personal time." The gap between cocaine and cannabis on this score reflects cocaine's scarier reputation, which is reinforced by the fact that the number of Americans who have tried it is about one-third the number who have tried marijuana, based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Once you allow for a bit of underreporting (which is likely in a survey asking about illegal behavior), it looks like most American adults born after World War II have smoked (or eaten) cannabis at some point. But even if you assume that an equal percentage of cocaine users lie in surveys, this drug is still distinctly a minority taste. People tend to view relatively exotic intoxicants as more frightening (and more condemnable) than familiar ones.

That tendency was not lost on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and U.S. Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.), both of whom blamed their occasional cocaine use on their heavy drinking, figuring the public would be more inclined to forgive the latter than the former. An interesting question, given evolving public opinion, is how those scandals would have played out if the illegal drug had been marijuana rather than cocaine. Growing public support for legalizing marijuana seems to go hand in hand with growing understanding of marijuana's health and safety advantages over alcohol, although a stubborn (and aging) minority refuses even to consider the comparison. Would Ford or Radel have tried to offer excessive alcohol consumption as an excuse for consuming marijuana from time to time, or would they have worried that voters might prefer an occasional pot smoker to a habitual drunk? 

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  • Luddite||

    I wonder what the poll results would be if the question were phrased: "Would you support a politician who is on anti-depressants", or any other form of pharma-provided feel-goods?

  • misthiocracy||

    The problem with politicians using marijuana or cocaine isn't the effect of the drugs themselves.

    The problem is that consuming these substances requires a politician to knowingly and willfully associating with organized crime.

    I am supportive of drugs like cocaine and/or marijuana being legalized for recreational use, but I will not support a politician who knowingly and willfully associates with organized crime.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Dubya was the only drunkard of the three - which is quite telling. Nevertheless they all were in violation of the law at some point.

  • sarcasmic||

    PB's midi-derpian count is off the charts!

  • VG Zaytsev||

    Obama's been high from narcissism for decades.

  • Loki||

    Nevertheless they all were in violation of the law at some point.

    Behold, PB, the closet law and order so-con!

    Just keep spewing random non-sequitors about BBBBBOOOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!11!! It's hilarious.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Read the first sentence in the fucking article.

  • sarcasmic||

    It's the "quite telling" part of your comment that earned ridicule. Dolt.

  • Loki||

    Our three most recent presidents all admitted (some more forthrightly than others) that they had tried marijuana, and survey data suggest that something like half of all politicians (assuming they resemble the general population in this respect) have done so as well.

    Nothing in there about any of them being a drunkard, it's just talking about their MJ use.

    Now please go stick your dick in an electrical socket. I'm sure it's small enough to fit.

  • Lord Humungus||

    Politicians' Cosmotarians Drugs, in Order of Acceptability: Cocktails, Cannabis, Cocaine

  • Loki||

    Not too suprising that acceptance of pot smoking increases with education. I'm not sure many people could make it through post grad education without a little MJ once in a while.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Kind of funny given the effects. I would say your brain functions at a higher capacity or at least faster on coke than on weed. You probably wouldn't know if he did a few lines but you might if he was nice and toasty. Sex is better on weed though IMHO.

  • ||

    And yet they elected someone who has admitted to coke use to the presidency. Has Chappelle ever followed up on this since a former cokehead got elected?

  • Lord Humungus||

    a little Penn Jillette flashback:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZiuMBpdzlQ

  • sarcasmic||

    "It's OK for a mayor" who is black. I'm sure now that the president is black it's OK.

  • misthiocracy||

    Voters generally see a difference between a politician who admits to PAST illegal drug use and a politician who uses illegal drugs WHILE IN OFFICE.

  • lap83||

    "both of whom blamed their occasional cocaine use on their heavy drinking"

    To their credit (kind of), saying that does make them sound like alcoholics. If there was one commonality among alcoholics I would say it's refusing to take responsibility.

    Personally, I find alcoholics more annoying than heavy coke or pot users because the former is more likely to advertise their problem as if it's cool or funny. "OMG! I totally woke up in some strange guy's bed this morning! LOL I was so wasted!" Like the fact that drinking was involved gets you a free pass on being a sad miserable loser.

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