When Pot Smokers Become Pot Prohibitionists

Cory Booker, Rand Paul, Jeb Bush, Barack Obama, and "pot hypocrisy"



In an upcoming CNN special about marijuana, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) urges his colleagues in Congress to "stop the pot hypocrisy." What is the nature of this hypocrisy? Booker elaborates:

We now have had three presidents that have admitted to smoking marijuana. People that are in public office all throughout the Senate have said, hey, I've smoked marijuana recreationally.

How much of a hypocrite do you have to be to say that I broke American laws using pot as a recreational thing [but] I'm not going to support this idea that as a medicine for severely sick people, that they [should] be able to access this drug?

It is not necessarily inconsistent for someone who smoked pot in high school or college to question marijuana's medical utility. It is not even necessarily inconsistent for such a person to support criminal punishment of cannabis consumption, assuming he views his youthful "experimentation" as a terrible, reckless mistake that can be deterred by the threat of penalties. What Booker means, I think, is that former pot smokers in Congress did not think consuming cannabis was a big deal back then and still do not think it is a big deal. They nevertheless support laws that criminalize cannabis consumers, even those who use the drug to relieve symptoms of debilitating illnesses. The hypocrisy lies in the contradiction between their private beliefs and their public positions, not in their current disapproval of something they did when they were younger.

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)—who joined Booker in sponsoring the CARERS Act, which would legalize medical marijuana in states that allow it—presumably had something similar in mind when he charged former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush with hypocrisy after the fellow presidential contender admitted that "I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover," calling it "pretty common." Here is how Paul responded in an interview with The Hill:

You would think he'd have a little more understanding then….He was even opposed to medical marijuana. This is a guy who now admits he smoked marijuana, but he wants to put people in jail who do.

I think that's the real hypocrisy, is that people on our side, which include a lot of people who made mistakes growing up, admit their mistakes but now still want to put people in jail for that. Had he been caught at Andover, he'd have never been governor, he'd probably never have a chance to run for the presidency.

The point is not just that Jeb Bush would have been unhappy to be caught with pot as a teenager, or that the disciplinary and legal consequences could have derailed his political career before it began. It's that Bush still thinks such an outcome would have been unjust and therefore should concede it is equally unjust to treat current cannabis consumers like criminals, especially when they are patients using marijuana for medical purposes.

Which brings us to Barack Obama, who also appears in the CNN special. According to The Daily Caller's Jonah Bennett, Obama "states his full support of medical marijuana." But judging from the quote Bennett presents, that is not quite accurate. Here is how Obama responds when CNN medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta asks whether he supports the CARERS Act:

You know, I think I'd have to take a look at the details. But I'm on record as saying that not only do I think carefully prescribed medical use of marijuana may in fact be appropriate and we should follow the science as opposed to ideology on this issue, but I'm also on record as saying that the more we treat some of these issues related to drug abuse from a public health model and not just from an incarceration model, the better off we're going to be.

In other words, Gupta asked whether Congress should make an exception to the federal ban on marijuana for people who grow, distribute, or possess the drug for medical use in compliance with state law, and Obama responded by calling for more research. He also acknowledged that cannabinoids have medical potential, which is something prohibitionists (including Republican drug czars) have been conceding for years. He did not express "full support for medical marijuana."

Does Obama believe medical marijuana users or the people who assist them should be arrested for violating federal law? I don't think he does, so why can't he just say that, even if he is not quite prepared to endorse Booker and Paul's bill? The cowardice is especially striking because medical marijuana is supported by a large majority of Americans and has been for at least a decade and a half

To his credit, Obama has been candid about his own youthful marijuana use, and he has talked about the very issue that Booker and Rand raised: pot smokers who grow up to be pot prohibitionists. Here is how Obama put it in his 2014 interview with The New Yorker:

"Middle-class kids don't get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do," he said. "And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties." But, he said, "we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing." Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that "it's important for it to go forward because it's important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished."

The implication seems clear: not just that cannabis consumers should not be locked up for "long stretches of jail time" (which almost never happens) but that they should not be treated like criminals at all, and that legalizing marijuana, as Colorado and Washington have done, is the logical way to achieve that goal. Why can't Obama simply say, as Jimmy Carter did way back in 1977, that smoking pot is not the sort of thing that should get you arrested? Forget the vague, mealy-mouthed rhetoric about adding the "public health model" to "the inarceration model," which is something that prohibitionists are happy to support. Just say: I am glad I never got busted, and cannabis consumers today should not have to worry about that. Until Obama manages to form those words or something like them, he will be guilty of double hypocrisy, embodying the same inconsistency he decries in others.

NEXT: Steve Chapman on the Federal Government's Obstinacy on Marijuana

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  1. I have not come here to comment. Just to escape the Tulpa shitfest in the other thread.

    1. Which thread? I too prefer not to get into a shit thread.

      1. The FATCA thread.

        1. *tips red man tobacco cap*

  2. Unprincipled assholes are unprincipled? This is news?

  3. Seriously – if on reflection these pols think MJ is a horrible, dangerous drug and they just escaped their youthful “experimentation” by the skin of their teeth, they can consistently support laws to “protect” today’s youth from the same dangers – especially by focusing on the evil dealers.

    But of course they know from experience that MJ wasn’t so horrible. They are just vote whores who think they’ll be vulnerable to “law and order” attacks if they get “soft on dope.”

    That’s worse than hypocrisy.

    1. Yeah, I think that is true.

      The problem is that being “tough on crime” can get you votes. Being sensible about drug policy doesn’t. It’s just not an issue that many people vote on.

    2. “soft on dope.”

      There’s a little blue pill for that.

    3. How can they consistently support these laws when they’ve avoided the punishments they wish to inflict on others? If it came out that Harry Reid or Mitch McConnell had committed a bank robbery during college, would anyone argue that he shouldn’t be punished now because it was just “youthful experimentation?” Beyond a few committed partisans, I can’t see anyone making this argument because nearly everyone considers bank robbery to be seriously wrong and the fact that it happened a long time ago is not relevant.

      1. Statute of limitations. I expect that they would end up resigning in disgrace if something like that came out, though.

        It is shocking how cavalierly people accept the ridiculous punishments handed out for drug offenses.

      2. Didn’t seem to hurt Stalin.

      3. I’m not sure everyone considers bank robbery to be seriously wrong. They could say they were ahead of their time in sticking it to the evil bankers by liberating their $.

        1. Im among them. The only thing wrong about bank robbery is the threat of physical harm to bank employees – in many cases, even this factor does not come into play because the bank robber merely passes a note saying “give me the money”. The actual expropriation of funds is meaningless to the banks that are “victimized”.

  4. Remember that we’ve reached a point where the politicians can sit there, say “yeah I smoked, and I also think we should put people in jail for it”…and they still get elected.

    Why wouldn’t they be hypocritical scum? It’s not as if they pay a single political price for it.

    1. No kidding. We didn’t expect the people exempted from insider trading laws and Obamacare to be bastions of high-minded fairness.

  5. How much money do law enforcement agencies at every level of government derive either directly from asset forfeiture or in appropriations as a result of the War on Drugs? How much political clout does the FOP have?

    That’s why you have politicians that have no problem being politically dishonest over this issue.

    1. One of several reasons. There is a constituency that gains some advantage from prohibition. But there are also not many people who would change their votes because of the issue because most people don’t care that much or just assume that this is the way things have to be for some vague reason.

      1. They have never been forced to confront their hypocrisy about pot. In recent past, questions about pot were handled with smirks and jokes.

        Locking up people and destroying lives for nothing is not a joke. My vote will be greatly influenced by this waste of money and people.

  6. Obama also freely admits to doing “a little blow” in his youth. And possession of a little blow can send you to prison in a lot of places.
    I know pot is the only thing at all likely to be legalized any time soon, but all the same arguments (and hypocrisies) apply to other, less popular drugs too. A whole lot of people have done a little blow and know damn well that it doesn’t inevitably lead you down a road to self destruction either.

    I find I am becoming less and less tolerant of these baby steps away from the drugwar. Not arresting people for posession of weed is nice and all. But there is still the huge injustice of locking people up for selling and producing the stuff and the huge injustice of enforcing any criminal prohibition laws at all. Putting someone in prison for selling, manufacturing or possessing any drug is wrong. Just the same morally as if I snatched someone up off the street at random and locked them in my basement. Any politician who supports any prohibition is an evil piece of shit.

    1. We know the sentiment is not generalized, because look what’s happening concerning tobacco products at the same time.

    2. He didn’t “freely admit” using pot and a little blow. He bragged about it because he thought it would make him look cool. I’m not sure that having done the drugs in the first place was particularly relevant to their calculation. They just thought it would strengthen his support if he was one of the cool kids who was down with Mary Jane. He might as well have said, “Hey kids, I would like to rap with you about some heavy stuff, you dig?”

  7. The cowardice is especially striking because medical marijuana is supported by a large majority of Americans and has been for at least a decade and a half.

    One can only guess at Valerie Jarrett’s reasoning on this.

  8. when one considers that the Constitution gives NO POWER to FedGov to deal in any way with what we do/don’t put into our bodies, any government official who continues to support the Conrtolled SUbstances act is a hypocrite by definition: they swore that oath of office, then go on to ignore it.

    1. +1: so much so that, when Prohibitionists wanted the Feds to ban alcohol, they used the War Power to stop production, even though the Act passed after the Armistice. Then the 18th Amendment was passed, followed by the Volstead Act.

      Remember, the Harrison Act passed in 1914, without an amendment. It was prohibition disguised as a tax measure, same as the `37 Marihuana Act. The latter was overturned in Leary v. United States on 5th Amendment grounds, which is fine, but the Controlled Substance Act was enacted shortly after. SCOTUS should have smacked all of this down as not authorized by Article I. Using taxation not to raise revenue but to sanction unwanted behavior isn’t cricket and should be ultra vires.

      Kevin R

    2. They didn’t have marijuana back then I guess.

  9. Hurrah for marijuana legalization!

    Now can we have a mature conversation about how much we’ve all learned and why the entire drug war should be ended?

  10. Sell the stinking weed next to the Oxycodone & Vicodan-the real bad drugs.

  11. It really is as simple as this, when is media going to ask if the candidate is using free services from corporations that get tax dollars… to run any part of their campaign,,,,
    every President for over thirty years has received Campaign Donation Management services… from Corporations that receive Federal Tax dollars of the Drug War.
    Very simple.. the Presidents sell their policy, to get elected, to the ONDCP participants.

    Very simple.. have the media ask the State Candidate if they receive illegal Campaign donations… of Federal Tax dollars, though ONDCP Constituents. Very simple.
    Without the reasoning of cash flow and advantageous, Politicians don’t sell their position based on.. cash flow and campaign advancement. The people aren’t aware this is how the Drug War Policy is made and with the media being complicit by cowardice.. the Central government maintains a ‘drug war’ for the tax dollar cash flow.. and self advancement.

    1. “Corporations that receive Federal Tax dollars of the Drug War.”

      What Corporations are you referring to? GEO Group, Corrections Corp?

      Also, just FYI, the randomly placed Capitalization makes you sound cray cray.

  12. Has Leoncunt resigned yet?

  13. When I was young back in the 70’s and 80’s I use to drive drunk all the time. I use to sell dope and I vandalized a few places.Now that I am an adult I look back on all the stuff I did & see that I was a foolish kids doing stupid and dangerous things. I also cringe at the very thought of my kids or grand-kids making the same mistakes I did and will fight to the death to protect them from entering the dangerous world I was in. So I am pretty sure it doesn’t make one a hypocrite to advocate against something we once did & now know was dangerous and stupid. Its called intellectually maturing as we age….. or growing up. It takes a very small minded person to claim people are hypocrites simply because they advocate against making the same mistakes they once made.

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