A Top Congressional Democrat Still Thinks Weed Is a Gateway Drug

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer called cannabis "a threshold drug that leads to the use of harder, very harmful drugs."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.
Steny Hoyer in April. Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty

One of the most powerful Democrats in Congress remains under the impression that cannabis is a gateway drug. In a letter obtained by the cannabis-focused website Marijuana Moment, the majority leader, Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, responded to a constituent asking about his stance on cannabis by saying he didn't support federal weed legalization, putting him at odds with most of the other leading figures in his party. (He does, however, support legalizing medical cannabis, and leaving states that have already legalized it alone.)


"As you may know, I was initially amenable to the idea of the legalization of marijuna," the 80-year-old Hoyer wrote, adding that he has changed his mind in the past 30 years or so. "I still have concerns on this after speaking to people who deal with drug abuse and rehabilitation issues and particularly after learning of the drug's harmful consequences as a threshold drug that leads to the use of harder, very harmful drugs."

As Marijuana Moment also noted, Hoyer has been going down this path for some time: Last year, he suggested that, despite knowing that the public increasingly supports cannabis legalization, and that it "probably makes sense," he couldn't be positive that smoking weed wouldn't lead a person to experiment with more dangerous substances. It's a theory that has been pretty uniformly debunked. The Drug Policy Alliance states on its website that usually "marijuana is an endpoint in [a person's] drug use," and the Centers for Disease Control similarly notes that "the majority of people who use marijuana do not go on to use other, 'harder' substances." (The CDC does suggest, as a qualification, that more research is needed to be entirely conclusive.)

Hoyer, as the number-two Democrat in the House, clearly wields some power, but this letter shows that he's moving in the opposite direction as many of the most prominent members of his party.

Along with representatives Barbara Lee, the co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and Ro Khanna, Senator Cory Booker has introduced a bill to federally legalize cannabis—and its co-sponsors in the Senate include a number of other 2020 hopefuls, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. And with the presidential election heating up, many of these same Democratic candidates, like Sanders and Warren, have been declaring their own plans for full-blown legalization. (So has Andrew Yang, who has even begun selling weed-themed merchandise.)


Even the Trump administration shows some signs of lightening up: This week, the Drug Enforcement Administration said it would start approving applications to allow institutions to grow their own cannabis for research purposes—a potential step, some think, toward removing weed from the restrictive Schedule I classification.

Hoyer's blast-from-the-past position on pot comes at a time when he's being challenged in the upcoming 2020 primary by a 28-year-old named Mckayla Wilkes, who was reportedly influenced by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to try to take down a top dog in Congress. Wilkes, who is in favor of the Green New Deal and Medicare for All, told BuzzFeed News that Hoyer's policies are not beneficial for the working-class people in her district.

"He's not for people that are my family, my friends, my coworkers," she told BuzzFeed. "It shows in the policies that he sponsors and that he endorses, and it shows in the donors that he gets his contributions from."

Naturally, she wants to legalize weed.

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