When the next president is sworn in, it will have been nearly a quarter-century since the United States was led by someone who has never tried marijuana.
Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all used pot when they were younger. (To varying degrees: Clinton famously said he didn’t inhale, Bush never publicly admitted it while Obama has been fairly open about his years in the Choom Gang.)
But several of the leading contenders to move into the Oval Office in 2017 say they’ve never tried it or won’t say whether they have. And their language indicates they think that’s exactly how it should be, thank you very much.
When asked at a CNN town hall if she would ever try marijuana, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said “absolutely not,” adding “I didn’t do it when I was young, I’m not going to start now.”
Asked by talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel if he’d ever smoked pot, Texas Gov. Rick Perry answered “No, thank God!” Faced with the same question, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio asked people to think of the children: “If I tell you that I haven’t, you won’t believe me. If I tell you that I did, then kids will look up to me and say, ‘Well, I can smoke marijuana, because look how he made it.'”
Even among those who have admitted trying it, the tone is similarly harsh.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who admitted experimenting with marijuana as a teen-ager when he first ran for governor in 1994, was harshly self-critical. “It was a stupid thing to do, and it was wrong,” he said in 1998.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz one-upped even those words, when a spokesperson told The Daily Mail that as a teen-ager Cruz “foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he’s never tried it since.”
Less harsh but still regretful was Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, who can’t exactly deny his past use. (See: Aqua Buddha.)
“Let’s just say I wasn’t a choir boy when I was in college and that I can recognize that kids make mistakes, and I can say that I made mistakes when I was a kid,” Paul said in a radio interview earlier this month.
Does it matter whether the president has ever smoked pot? At a practical level, not really. A 2013 Gallup poll showed only 38 percent of Americans will admit to having tried marijuana, a rate that is relatively unchanged since the Reagan administration.
Federal policy on marijuana is much more likely to be driven by the results of experiments with legalization in Washington state and Colorado, polls which show a majority of Americans support legalization and politicians’ natural risk aversion than by their past personal use.
Still, it’ll be interesting to note if the next president is the first one since 1993 to have never tried marijuana, even as the marijuana movement has its first real momentum in decades.