Drug War

Drug Warrior Quotes That Sound Too Good to Be True


Last year the British drug policy reform group Release launched a publicity campaign that seeks to promote rational debate by destigmatizing consumption of politically incorrect intoxicants. One part of the campaign is photos of ordinary-looking people holding signs (or wearing T-shirts, stickers, or badges) declaring that "Nice People Take Drugs." Another is a deck of cards featuring 52 political figures who have admitted using illegal drugs (mainly marijuana), including quotes from them on the subject. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Queen of Clubs, shares this bit of insight:

When I smoked pot it was illegal but not immoral. Now it is illegal and immoral. The law didn't change, only the morality. That's why you get to go to jail and I don't.

Unfortunately, that quotation, which sounds like a parody of a hypocritical drug warrior, seems to be apocryphal. The same words appear on page 394 of Martin Booth's 2003 book Cannabis: A History, where they are unsourced and placed in italics rather than quotation marks, as if they might be Booth's paraphrase:

When Gingrich admitted his marijuana experience, he tried to justify his action. When I smoked pot, he was quoted as having said, it was illegal but not immoral. Now it is illegal and immoral. The law didn't change, only the morality. That's why you get to go to jail and I don't. Quite how the morality of marijuana had changed Gingrich did not care to elucidate.

Nothing like this quote/paraphrase shows up in Nexis, and none of the Google hits for it cites an original source. But Gingrich really did say this regarding his youthful pot smoking: "That was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era." Since Gingrich retained that blasé attitude about his own behavior even while attacking the Clinton administration for including too many former drug users (a.k.a., "counterculture people"), his hypocrisy was especially striking.

The extremely fishy statement attributed to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (the King of Hearts) likewise sounds like satire rather than an actual quotation:

I was smart enough to use pot without getting caught, and now I'm on the Supreme Court. If you were stupid enough to get caught, that's your problem. Your appeal is denied.

As with the Gingrich quote, I cannot locate an original source, and it is hard to imagine in what context a Supreme Court justice would say anything like that out loud or in writing. The other quotes attributed to American politicians are genuine, which shows there's no need to make stuff up when you're trying to make drug warriors look bad. As the author of a book called Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use (great Christmas gift!), I obviously sympathize with Release's goals, but I wish it would be a bit more careful in pursuing them.

[via the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman at Alternet]

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  1. Sigh. “Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Queen of Clubs. . .” should read “Former House Speaker Newt (short for Newcular Titties) Gingrich, the Queen of Clubs. . . .”

      1. Focus groups love the name change from Newton. Trust me, you’ll be seeing that name on campaign posters in the near future.

  2. It occurs to me that President Clinton would be much more popular if he corrected his old quote: “I didn’t inexhale.”

  3. One part of the campaign is photos of ordinary-looking people holding signs (or wearing T-shirts, stickers, or badges) declaring that “Nice People Take Drugs.”

    Then why do they have a card with Newcular Titties Gingrinch?

    1. He’s ordinary looking?

    2. I read it as “the pics are nice people, the cards are public figures”, seeing how it would be pretty hard to characterize that unsourced quote from Thomas as “nice.”

    3. Hell, any politician doing drugs pretty much belies that line.

  4. The potheads I knew at the time interpreted Clinton’s declaration of non-inhalation as a secret worldwide-pothead-conspiracy rhetorical handshake that meant he was into eating it, not smoking it. Which is, like, super-pothead. So they loved him, forever, and all his drug-warring didn’t count.

    B) It’s marginally harder to find hypocritical Republican quotes about drug-war shit, because they’re marginally less hypocritical about drug-war shit, so “reformers” have to make shit up. Have to. Cultural imperative.

    1. I’ve heard that Clinton was a brownie fan as well. But yes, he escalated the drug war in unprecedented fashion and deserves our scorn for it.

      It’s marginally harder to find hypocritical Republican quotes about drug-war shit, because they’re marginally less hypocritical about drug-war shit

      Possibly, but those are some razor-thin fucking margins.

      1. Brownie fan? You mean fairies? Like Conan Doyle was into?

        1. Heh, reminds me of the “Afternoon Delight” episode of Arrested Development.

          “Maybe I’ll put it in her brownie…”
          “I said I didn’t want to know!”

          1. Sky rockets in flight. . . .

      2. Except for Gary Johnson, whom I believe is going around right now saying that, yeah, he smoked pot from 2003 to 2008.

    2. I had a college psychology professor who clearly stated “I never smoked pot, but I never said that I never used it.” She wouldn’t clarify that.

  5. There is no crossing of the ethical line when making up shit about Clarence Thomas because he betrayed his race by becoming a conservative. Soon Obama too will know what it is like to be a race scab.

  6. That’s funny… I clicked on the link of the cards before reading your post and immediately noted that the Clarence Thomas quote sounded uncharacteristic. I did a google search and found the only web pages using the alleged quote were a few pro-drug websites, most of which added “This 40 year sentence just might teach you a lesson” to the end of it and then editorialized: “Clearly a hateful man.” Nice to come back and read the rest of the post to find you pointing out the exact same thing…

    1. Clarence Thomas did say something interesting about marijuana law:
      Justice Thomas, dissenting.

      Respondents Diane Monson and Angel Raich use marijuana that has never been bought or sold, that has never crossed state lines, and that has had no demonstrable effect on the national market for marijuana. If Congress can regulate this under the Commerce Clause, then it can regulate virtually anything?and the Federal Government is no longer one of limited and enumerated powers.

      1. That was actually what made me think the quote on the card was B.S. I could see Scalia saying something like that, but not Thomas.

        1. Exactly my thoughts. There was a clear split between the two on Raich.

    2. I would truly like to see the source of the Thomas quote because that doesn’t sound like him at all.

  7. I glanced at a few of those cards, and some have that “I did it, but you shouldn’t” flavor.

  8. Wait, how big is the bounty the U.S. is offering for Bill Clinton?

    1. No point. He’s elusive, like a cat.

      1. Hah! With Bill you can’t stalk him. You have to bait him like a bear.

        Simply put up a podium with a microphone and cameras and then go wait in your blind. He’ll be right along.

  9. I believe the late, great Rodney Dangerfield said (admitted during a stand-up routine) something like:

    I tried marijuana once, but I didn’t know what I was doing. I was on cocaine at the time!

  10. I wonder if you could sell more conservatives on drug legalization if you walked them through the common scenario of young, left-leaning folks indulging too far, destroying their lives and ending up conservative and religious.

    I’ve seen it too many times – just 2 nights ago I found another old high school friend who was a black-flag waving, explosives-making, drug-taking, juvenile delinquent punk rocker… who’s now a god-fearing conservative.

  11. As a College Republican, I proposed that we pass out weed in Democratic precincts on election day to depress turn out. We never acted on it, but everyone thought it was a good idea.

    1. I think you made a typo. Here, let me fix that for you:

      “As an asshole…”

  12. If Newt wants me to take him seriously on the Drug War, then he should turn himself in to the authorities in the relevant jurisdiction, confess to his actions, and serve the maximum sentence for possession. Until and unless he does that, he remains a hypocrite.


  13. This is such a waste of space Reason. You should be writing about Obama and obamacare and the deficit. Anything not about Obama is frivolous and a waste. I bet that “Relase” group supports Obama. The only thing you should be writing about is attacking Obama. Obama obama obama obama obama

  14. He did say this. The source that the author here could not find was
    1 May 1995, New York Magazine, page 42
    http://books.google.com/books?…..129&dq=new york magazine may 1 1995&pg=PA42#v=onepage&q=new york magazine may 1 1995&f=false

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