Sunday, February 22, 2004

If either of the two top Democratic presidential contenders defeats President Bush in November, he will become the first American president to openly acknowledge having smoked marijuana — and inhaled.

Sens. John Kerry and John Edwards both have admitted publicly to using marijuana as younger men. Mr. Bush — a product of the same generation — refuses to say whether he has.

Massachusetts’ Mr. Kerry first admitted during a 1990 Senate re-election campaign that he’d smoked marijuana as an antiwar protester after he returned from fighting in Vietnam.

“About 20 years ago, I tried marijuana,” Mr. Kerry said through a spokesman in 1990. “I didn’t like it. I have never used or tried any drug since.” During an interview with Rolling Stone magazine last November, Mr. Kerry elaborated on his views about casual marijuana use.

“I’ve met plenty of people in my lifetime who’ve used marijuana and who I would not qualify as serious addicts — who use about the same amount as some people drink beer or wine or have a cocktail,” he said. “I don’t get too excited by any of that.”

Like Mr. Kerry, Mr. Edwards — the freshman senator from North Carolina — said during the “Rock the Vote” debate last November on CNN that he’d smoked marijuana before. He did not elaborate.

But in general, Mr. Edwards has maintained a stronger view against illegal marijuana use.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) has given Mr. Edwards two thumbs down for his opposition to the decriminalization of the drug and his “little concern” for medical marijuana use.

NORML gives Mr. Kerry a green thumbs up for his “mild support for the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes.” The group isn’t as pleased with Mr. Kerry over his hesitancy to decriminalize marijuana, although they don’t give him an outright thumbs down on the issue.

In his Rolling Stone interview, the former prosecutor said he didn’t “quite” support making marijuana legal.

“What we did in the prosecutor’s office was have a sort of unspoken approach to marijuana that was almost effectively decriminalization,” Mr. Kerry said. “We just didn’t bother with small-time use.”

Mr. Kerry also joined his senior Massachusetts senator, Democrat Edward M. Kennedy, in a letter last October to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration seeking approval for the University of Massachusetts to grow high-quality marijuana.

For 30 years, the University of Mississippi has been the sole supplier of high-grade marijuana used in research by the government, creating “an unjustifiable monopoly on the production of marijuana for legitimate medical and research purposes in the United States,” according to the letter.

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Kennedy were concerned that the lack of competition “may well result in the production of lower-quality, research-grade marijuana, which in turn jeopardizes important research into the therapeutic effects of marijuana for patients undergoing chemotherapy or suffering from AIDS, glaucoma, or other diseases.”

Mr. Bush never has directly answered questions about whether he used marijuana or other drugs.

When asked in August 1999, he replied: “I made some mistakes years ago, but I learned from my mistakes.” The next day, he elaborated — but only a little.

“Not only could I pass the background check and the standards applied to today’s White House, but I could have passed the background check when my dad was president, a 15-year period.”

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