WASHINGTON TODAY: Youthful marijuana use not the stigma it used to be

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Nov 28, 2003.

  1. WASHINGTON TODAY: Youthful marijuana use not the stigma it used to be

    CONNIE CASS, Associated Press Writer Thursday, November 27, 2003

    When it comes to marijuana, youthful indiscretion has come of age.

    Lots of politicians, including three of the Democratic presidential candidates, show no fear of fessing up to lighting up in their wild-oats days. Indeed, some who deny dabbling in illegal drugs give the impression that instead of feeling self-righteous, they're a little nervous about coming across as dishonest or just square.

    Times have changed since one of President Reagan's Supreme Court nominees was jettisoned because of pot smoking in his past, and even over the decade since candidate Bill Clinton felt obliged to equivocate about whether he inhaled.

    "We're just facing reality. People do a lot of things when they're young," said Joseph Califano, chairman of Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse and a former U.S. health secretary.

    As young people who were part of the explosion in drug use in the 1970s matured and moved into public service, voters of all ages gradually have become more accepting of drug transgressions.

    "If we disqualified guys that had used drugs in those years, we'd probably eliminate half the potential candidates or more," Califano said.

    In addition to former President Clinton, former Vice President Al Gore, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., and several past senators and Cabinet secretaries have admitted to at least trying marijuana. New York Gov. George Pataki says he inhaled, as did New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

    Character was a big issue in movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger's election to California governor, but film of him smoking pot back in his bodybuilder days was not. President Bush, who speaks in broad terms about overcoming a drinking problem, refuses to answer specific questions about his past behavior.

    Eight candidates at a recent Democratic presidential debate were asked whether they ever had used marijuana. Three of them -- Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards and Howard Dean -- each answered with an unadorned "yes," drawing enthusiastic applause from the "Rock the Vote" event's youthful audience. It was candidates who said they hadn't smoked pot who felt the need to elaborate.

    "I grew up in the church. We didn't believe in that," Al Sharpton explained.

    Rep. Dennis Kucinich said he never tried marijuana, "but I think it ought to be decriminalized."

    Sen. Joseph Lieberman offered a joking apology: "Well, you know, I have a reputation for giving unpopular answers in Democratic debates. I never used marijuana, sorry."

    Only Wesley Clark offered a straightforward, "Never used it."

    The candidates' admissions caused barely a ripple in the media, launched no significant Republican attacks and no signs of public outrage. But conservative moralist Bill Bennett, co-chairman of Partnership for a Drug-Free America, said he was disappointed by "this kind of tee-hee, ha ha, winking and nodding at marijuana."

    "It's not a lighthearted issue. It's a serious issue," said Bennett, who served as director of drug control policy under the first President Bush. "They wouldn't joke like this about smoking cigarettes."

    It was Bennett, as Ronald Reagan's education secretary back in 1987, who pushed Douglas Ginsburg to give up his Supreme Court nomination. While Bennett says past marijuana use should not automatically bar an individual from high office, he still believes Ginsburg's use of the illegal substance while a serving as a Harvard law professor made him unfit.

    Would such a past damage a Supreme Court nominee today?

    "Probably less so," Bennett said. "The bright line is dimming, that's for sure."

    Advocates of marijuana, who have had some success promoting medical use of the drug, are encouraged by the more casual attitude, even though most of the politicians who tried marijuana years ago don't support legalization today.

    "Given the fact that we have so many prominent people in this country who have acknowledged using marijuana and didn't become junkies, derelicts, have their lives ruined, we are at a point where we need to have a conversation about do these laws that criminalize marijuana make any sense," said Bruce Mirken, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which seeks to ease marijuana laws.

    For parents, the proliferation of "everybody did it" excuses among the nation's leaders raises the question of how to convince teenagers that marijuana is risky. After all, Partnership for a Drug-Free America estimates that about 60 percent of parents have tried marijuana themselves.

    Bennett recommends describing the dangers honestly, in the same vein as warning against speeding or drunk driving.

    "If you smoke marijuana once or twice, probably nothing is going to happen," he said. "But you never know." You could end up a junkie. Or a president.

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