“I didn’t inhale it.” - Bill Clinton
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Remember when Bill Clinton said that? It was 1992 and Clinton was running for president. When asked if he ever smoked marijuana, the future POTUS admitted that as a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford in his 20s, he experimented with pot, saying, “I’ve never broken a state law. But when I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again.”
At the time, his statement sent shockwaves through the polito-sphere. (This was the early ‘90s after all.) A politician, someone who might run the entire United States of America, once “smoked” marijuana? THE HORROR. Cut to thirty years later and for most Americans, the idea of a world leader who blows weed is met with a shrug and a, “Whateves.”
In a recent poll, 58% of Americans said they would be open to vote for a political candidate who they agree with on most issues and who “occasionally smokes marijuana in their free time.” 21% said they wouldn’t be willing to cast that vote. (The remaining 21% were unsure if they would or would not vote for a candidate who puffs and passes.)
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The survey, conducted by YouGov, involved interviews with 4,096 adults, both Republican and Democrat. In the study, 68% of Democrats stated they’d be open to voting for someone who partakes in the sticky icky, as compared to 15% of Democrats who said they wouldn’t. As for Republicans, 47% said they would vote for a Republican who is a fan of the herb as long as that candidate aligns with most their issues, with 34% saying they would not. (The “unsure” group percentages for Democrats and Republicans were 16% and 19%, respectively.)
Now, despite the image of a member of the U.S government toking on a phatty being comedy gold, this poll is an important sign of the normalization of cannabis as more and more states move to legalize marijuana for medical and adult use. A Gallup poll from 2020 found that many Americans find cannabis consumption to be acceptable, even more so than medical testing of animals, the death penalty, even pornography. So, it’s no surprise that many Americans would feel comfortable voting for someone who uses marijuana. But what is surprising is that, in the past several years, many politicians are embracing not only the legalization of marijuana, but are publicly declaring that yes, indeed, they do inhale.
Earlier this year, Democrat Gary Chambers, a candidate seeking to represent Louisiana in the U.S. Senate, released a campaign ad that puts marijuana at the forefront of his policy issues. Chambers sits in an armchair in a field, listing statistics about the harms of criminalization of marijuana…all the while smoking a MASSIVE blunt. In a surprise to absolutely no one, the video went viral.
In a press release, Chambers stated he supports the Harnessing Opportunities by Pursuing Expungement (HOPE) Act, a congressional bill introduced by bipartisan lawmakers that would incentivize states and local governments to expunge cannabis records in their jurisdictions. He also backs the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, another bipartisan bill to protect financial institutions that service state-legal cannabis businesses. Chambers may not win a seat in Congress, but one thing is for sure; he has no problem showing his love for the weed.
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Chambers is not the first politician seeking office who isn’t afraid to shout out their pro-marijuana stance to the world. Anthony Clark, an Illinois candidate who ran an ultimately unsuccessful primary challenge against a Democratic congressional incumbent in 2020, also smoked marijuana in a campaign ad while discussing his personal experience with cannabis and the need for federal reform. He even hosted what he called the “first-ever congressional weed party”in a campaign video. (Editor’s note: That had to be the best congressional party in the history of congressional parties.) That same year, congressional candidate Amanda Siebe, a Democratic who ran for a House seat to represent Oregon, frequently discussed consuming and cultivating cannabis, posting images of herself on social media blazing away.
And despite President Biden’s sluggish response to act on his campaign promise to decriminalize marijuana, many representatives in Congress are using their platform to promote marijuana awareness. Various lawmakers have visited marijuana farms, marijuana companies, and state-legal dispensaries. Rep. James Comer, a Republican from Kentucky, even brought CBD oil products he uses to a committee hearing in 2019 to demonstrate the differences between hemp and marijuana. And in 2018, the governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, appeared on Bill Maher’s HBO show, Real Time, saying, “I can honestly say, we’ve got the best weed in the United States of America.” (If that’s not state pride we don’t know what is.)
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All of this is to say that what this poll shows is that the stigma against marijuana use is disappearing, even in our halls of government. It’s no longer something hidden in the shadows, nor is it something politicians denounce in public but do in private. Nowadays, voters are as likely to vote for someone who lights up just as much as someone who knocks a few drinks back. In fact, it may be only a matter of time before many politicians not only openly talk about their marijuana use, but even openly take pride in it.