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The Hypocrisy of Jeb Bush's Admission That He Used to Smoke Pot

Eight years after Bush left the governor's office, Florida remains one of the worst places to get caught with marijuana in the country.

Josiah Hesse

Josiah Hesse

In the lead-up to the inevitable announcement that he is running for president, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has followed in the footsteps of our last three presidents and admitted that he used to smoke pot as a kid. In a Boston Globe profile of Bush's teenage years at the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., the second son of the Bush dynasty was painted as a nihilistic bully, a long-haired jock who cared nothing for politics, the Vietnam war, or getting good grades. According to recollections from his classmates, Jeb Bush just wanted to hit the hash pipe and rock out to Steppenwolf.

Bush's father, George Senior, was a freshman congressman on the fast track to a storied life in Washington when Jeb enrolled in the Massachusetts prep school in 1967. The summer of love had just turned to fall, Bush was 14 and apparently had yet to be infected with the ambition of his father. He had completed the ninth grade in Houston, but was asked to repeat it at Andover, where he says his grades remained just high enough to avoid expulsion.

"I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover," the 61-year-old Bush recalled in his interview with the Globe, adding that "It was pretty common."

The Globe spoke with Bush's former classmate, Peter Tibbetts, who recalls smoking marijuana with Bush in the woods near the school—where Bush suggested Tibbetts take up cigarettes so he could better handle his smoke—and then later smoking hash with him back on campus. "The first time I really got stoned was in Jeb's room," Tibbetts said. "He had a portable stereo with removable speakers. He put on Steppenwolf for me." Tibbetts added that he once bought hash from Bush.

In hindsight, Bush told the Globe, he considers his dope-smoking to be "stupid" and "wrong." But his critics—including potential 2016 rival Rand Paul—have pointed out that in his years as Florida Governor, Bush supported harsh policies that incarcerated people for behaving exactly as he did as a student.

"If you're white and you're rich in our country, if you're busted for drugs, you get a good attorney and in all likelihood you serve no time, but if you're poor black or Hispanic or poor and white, you get put in jail," Paul said in an interview with Fox News Monday. "I think it is hypocritical for very wealthy white people who have all the resources to evade the drug laws," he added "Particularly in Jeb Bush's case, he's against even allowing medical marijuana for people that are confined to wheelchairs from multiple sclerosis,""

Paul—who, like Jeb, is almost certainly running for president—said he is not in favor of full marijuana legalization, though he supports the right of states like Colorado, Washington, and Alaska, to make their own choice on the issue. He added that he thinks Congress should look at reducing sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.

Paul also admitted to smoking pot as a young man, and said that it was "a mistake." Admissions of toking up as youth have become so common during presidential campaigns, it's almost a requisite milestone in the pageantry of running for the Oval Office. Following Bush's confession on Monday, an aide to presumptive GOP candidate Ted Cruz told The Daily Mailthat his boss "foolishly experimented with marijuana," as a teenager, but added, "it was a mistake, and he's never tried it since."

During an interview with ABC and Yahoo News last May, Senator Marco Rubio responded to inquiries about whether he partook in his youth with "Here's the problem with that question in American politics, if you say you did, suddenly there are all these people saying 'Well, it's not a big deal, look at all these successful people who did it.' On the other side of it, if you tell people that you didn't, they won't believe you."

And in an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel last year, Texas Governor Rick Perry denied ever smoking himself, but suggested that marijuana decriminalization may be around the corner in his state. "We already kind of did that," he said. "You don't want to ruin a kids life for having a joint. And, historically, that's what we saw." Perry went on to boast about the success of his criminal justice reform efforts, including the implementation of drug courts.

As governor of Florida, Jeb Bush took the opposite tack, opposing programs that would have placed drug offenders in rehabilitation programs instead of prisons, despite his daughter having done a stint in rehab after being caught trying to purchase Xanax with a phony prescription. While in rehab, she was busted twice with drugs, once with prescription pills, and another time with a rock of cocaine.

Eight years after Bush left office, Florida remains one of the worst places to get caught with marijuana in the country. According to data compiled by MuckRock, Florida leads several states—including Texas and California—in number of marijuana citations per capita, issuing more than five times the number of citations between 2011 and October 2014. In November, a constitutional amendment that would have legalized marijuana for medical purposes failed to get the 60 percent of votes needed to pass, despite earning support from a majority of voters.

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