This month Senator Rob Portman joined a long list of politicians who acknowledged using marijuana.  Portman thus joins Obama, Bush, Clinton and Secretary of State Kerry at the top of a very long list.  Portman is a high profile Ohio Senator considered to be among the leaders of the Republican Party.  In 2012, Portman was seriously considered as a running mate for Mitt Romney  and his website boasts of his leadership in reducing taxes and fighting for a balanced budget.  Portman was most recently in the headlines when he reversed his opposition to gay marriage, a decision he attributed to his relationship with his gay son.

Portman’s admission came in front of a studio audience during an interview with Mr. John Stanton, the D,.C. editor of  Buzzfeed, an internet political news site.  (See the interview)  The context of the interview is humorous with Mr. Stanton starting by showing a picture of a young and long-haired Portman. Stanton then asks Portman if he ever smoked weed. Portman responds by asking “Is this off the record?”   Portman gives the laughter from the audience a few seconds to die down before saying “Yes.”  Portman immediately clarifies he does not smoke pot any more and has been very involved in drug prevention programs. Portman also  remains opposed to the legalization of pot.

I respect Senator Portman.  I have always viewed him as one of the more ethical and hard-working members of the political class.  But on this issue, it is difficult to call his position anything other than hypocritical.  Last year, over 750,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana possession. I doubt any one of them finds Portman’s comments to be funny.  An arrest for the same behavior Senator Portman cavalierly indulged in has lifetime consequences and Portman himself knows full well the array of social and legal repercussions, including jail,  that accompany a pot arrest.

The issue is fairness, a word thrown about freely in political circles. Next time Senator Portman speaks on the issue, after the laughter has died down, he should be asked what he would say to the millions of Americans incarcerated and stigmatized with a criminal record for the same behavior that today’s Rob Portman finds so funny.