Updated, 2:30 p.m. | Two high-ranking Maryland Democrats said they support Gov. Martin O’Malley’s decision to sign a bill decriminalizing recreational marijuana in the state.
House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said there are too many people in prison or with a criminal record for using marijuana, something many people have done. And he suggested he’s among them.
“I’m not going to ask for a show of hands. If I did, I could raise my hand,” Hoyer told a roomful of reporters in the Capitol, raising his hand. “The use thereof, or the trying thereof. Inhaling or not. Experimentation.”
Soon after the session with reporters, Hoyer spokeswoman Stephanie Young told CQ Roll Call her boss was not saying what it sounded like. “Mr. Hoyer has not used marijuana. His point was that this issue affects many people and he believes the Maryland General Assembly took the right step to decriminalize marijuana.”
Three hours after the pen-and-pad briefing, Hoyer’s office issued a statement in his name clarifying what the lawmaker said.
“At today’s press conference, I was unclear when discussing the Maryland General Assembly’s actions on marijuana. To be clear, I have not used marijuana. The point I tried to make was that I wasn’t going to ask for a show of hands of people who haven’t tried marijuana — because if I did, I would probably be one of very few who could raise my hand.
“This issue affects many people in my home state and throughout the country, including those who are non-violent offenders suffering in prison from a criminal conviction over possession. While I indicated early on that I was not in support of legalization of marijuana, I do believe Governor O’Malley and the Maryland General Assembly are taking the right step to decriminalize the possession of small amounts.”
Hoyer said he has in the past objected to decriminalizing marijuana because drug rehab experts have told him it is a gateway drug, but he will not criticize the governor for signing the bill.
House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen said O’Malley should sign the bill.
“I support the legislation,” the Maryland Democrat said. “I think there’s a growing bipartisan consensus that we have way too many people in prison for nonviolent offenses.”
O’Malley said Monday that he will sign the bill, which imposes civil fines, as opposed to criminal penalties, for possession of less than 10 grams of the drug.
Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. told lawmakers last week that the Obama administration would be willing to work with Congress on rescheduling penalties for marijuana. (More on that changing sentiment here and here .)
Related story: Could Pot Become Legal in Nation’s Capital?