Over the weekend, Donald Trump suggested giving presidential candidates a drug test. This is a marvelous idea, if only because it would force candidates to be honest.
According to a recent Gallup survey, one in eight American adults say they smoke marijuana. This means that at least one in eight American adults are honest. The rest are either liars or nerds.
According to the survey, 13% of U.S. adults say they use marijuana regularly—up from 7% in 2013. Forty-three percent say they've tried it—up from 38% in 2013 and 4% in 1969.
Recreational marijuana use is more prevalent on the West Coast, where it is also more legal. Of the four states that have legalized it—Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon—three are on the West Coast and the fourth is in the Western part of the country. Fourteen percent of Westerners say they consume marijuana regularly; 47% say they have tried it. Both numbers are above the national average and trending in the right direction.
With increasing legal and social tolerance of marijuana comes increasing honesty about it. When certain activities are no longer criminal or taboo, people are more apt to admit to engaging in them.
Prohibition turns otherwise decent, law-abiding citizens into liars and criminals. It breeds dishonesty among the citizenry, corruption among law enforcement, and hypocrisy among politicians. Some prominent examples:
- Bill Clinton admitted to smoking (but not inhaling) marijuana.
- Al Gore said his marijuana use was "infrequent and rare." (A friend of Gore's, John Warnecke, disputed this, saying he and Gore smoked marijuana "a lot.")
- George W. Bush confessed to making "mistakes" in his youth but refused to elaborate on his youthful indiscretions because, as he said, "I don't want some little kid doing what I tried." The idea, presumably, is that confessing sin creates sinners.
- Barack Obama admitted to smoking (and inhaling) marijuana, thereby—if Bush's logic is correct—prompting the recent uptick in marijuana use.
The White House's website says that using marijuana can lead to "very real consequences," which is true. If you smoke pot, you might become president.
Libertarian Party presidential candidate Gary Johnson is refreshingly candid on the subject of drugs. During his first campaign for governor of New Mexico in 1994, Johnson said he used both marijuana and cocaine in college.
Why did he smoke pot? For the same reason that most people do—"because it was fun," he said.
Not only does Johnson admit to using marijuana in his youth. He admits to using it as an adult and even as a presidential candidate—as recently as this April. He would flunk a drug test and pass a lie-detector test, which is better than the reverse.
Johnson cautions against using marijuana. "It's a bad choice," he says. For some people, and in certain situations, it surely is. But it's relative. Compared to a healthy diet, a strict exercise regimen, and a productive day at work, marijuana probably isn't the best option. But if the alternatives are crystal meth, migraine headaches, and boredom, marijuana has its advantages.
A report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2014 only 34.3% of Americans "perceived great risk from smoking marijuana once or twice a week—down from 51.3 percent in 2002." During that timespan, the percentage of current marijuana users rose from 6.2% to 8.4%. The numbers suggest that as more people use marijuana, fewer are scared of it. Evidently, marijuana makes you less paranoid the more you use it.
As marijuana use has increased, so has public support for its legalization. Last year, 58% of Americans supported legalization. In 1969, only 12% did.
What happened over those years? Millions of Americans used marijuana and, in so doing, learned that it's not a big deal. It's actually safer and less addictive than alcohol and tobacco, albeit less legal.
Most marijuana users, contrary to stereotype, are normal people. Many lead successful lives, even those who do not become president. Take Michael Phelps. In 2009, Phelps was photographed taking a bong hit. In July, he was photographed with five new gold medals. Smoking weed will not make you an Olympian, but neither will it prevent you from becoming one.
Of the two major-party presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, neither has used marijuana, or so they claim. They should give it a try. What we need from our politicians is more candor, even if it means less sobriety.