The highlight of Sen. Rob Portman’s BuzzFeed Brews interview Monday night wasn’t his pitchy rendition of Randy Newman’s “Burn On,” nor was it his remark that George W. Bush “certainly did his level best” during his tenure as president.
It was that the conservative senator from Ohio admitted that, yeah, he smoked pot.
The hot-button question came seconds after Portman took his seat for the interview, a Cleveland-brewed Great Lakes beer in hand. BuzzFeed’s John Stanton opened the interview by telling the crowd he’d recently seen photos of a young Portman from the ’70s and ’80s, and that he looked “a bit like a dirty hippie with the long hair.”
“It raises the question,” Stanton said to Portman, “did you ever smoke weed?”
Portman shook his head as the crowd laughed, let out a defeated sigh and said, “This is all off the record, right?” and then, “Yes.”
He added, “I’ve been asked that now in 20 years three times.”
Portman, 57, didn’t elaborate on his experience with marijuana, but said that he has been involved with drug-prevention measures and programs since his first year in Congress in 1993, and expressed concerns about drug abuse in Ohio, most recently with heroin.
“It can devastate your life, and it has for many people,” Portman said, adding that he believes education, prevention programs and support for the addicted are the best way to combat the problem.
Portman said medical and recreational marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington State “isn’t the right way” to fight the war on drugs, but that law enforcement isn’t either. He instead favors drug courts, which offer problem-solving programs for nonviolent juvenile and adult offenders with drug and alcohol problems.
As for his own children, Portman says he doesn’t encourage them to follow in his pot-smoking footsteps. “When I talk to my kids about the fact that I did experiment when I was young, and [that] I hope they don’t,” Portman said, “I tell them having spent a lot of time now in this field.”