Marco Rubio won’t say whether he smoked pot. Why not?

In an interview with National Journal on Monday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was asked whether he had ever smoked pot. Here was his answer: "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.'... At this point, it's irrelevant."


A fully budded marijuana plant ready for trimming is seen at the Botanacare marijuana store ahead of their grand opening on New Year's day in Northglenn, Colorado, in this December 31, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

That got us to thinking: Why wouldn't Rubio simply say: "Yeah, I did it. It was dumb. But I was a kid. I lived and learned."  After all, we are a long way from Bill Clinton's famous/infamous "I didn't inhale" line during the 1992 campaign about his own past marijuana use. We are living in a political world in which the current occupant of the White House acknowledged in his own memoir that he had done cocaine in his younger years and, as David Maraniss detailed in his tremendous book on President Obama, was a regular pot smoker in college.

The public's attitude toward pot is also changing. For the first time since 1969, a clear majority of Americans said they support marijuana legalization in Gallup polling in 2013.


Image courtesy of Gallup

Almost four in 10 people (38 percent) in the Gallup survey acknowledged having tried pot in 2013 -- the highest that number has been since Gallup started asking the question in 1969. (At that point, just 4 percent of the population admitted to using marijuana in the previous year.)

And, politicians -- and their policies -- have generally followed suit. Last summer, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that the Obama administration would work to abolish mandatory minimum sentences for some nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.  Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), like Rubio a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has been outspoken on the same topic. (Paul does not, however, support legalizing pot.)

So, if Rubio has smoked pot at some point in his life -- and we have no idea if he has -- why not own it?  This poll -- via the Pew Research Center -- might explain why not.

Image courtesy of Pew
Image courtesy of Pew

One in three Republicans said they would be less likely to back a candidate who has used pot in the past, while just 2 percent said they would be more likely to support that candidate. Six in 10 said it wouldn't make any difference in how they would vote. Interestingly, marijuana usage is a far bigger negative in the eyes of Republicans than is being divorced. (Just 16 percent of Republicans said a past divorce would make them less likely to support a candidate.)

Now, the poll was conducted in early 2011. And, as you can see from the Gallup numbers above, opinions about pot are changing fast. But, taken at face value, what the numbers suggest is that while people are far more willing to legalize marijuana and even admit they've smoked it, Republicans at least don't love the idea of a candidate who has done the same.

From Rubio's point of view then, admitting anything -- if there is anything to admit -- doesn't make much sense. While he drew some headlines for his non-comment comment to National Journal, it was a one-ish day story. If he had admitted to smoking pot, it would have likely been a multi-day story that, if the Pew data are to be believed, would have made some not-insignificant group of Republican voters less inclined to vote for him.

Sometimes saying nothing is the best statement of all.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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