The Maryland Democrat, when asked about legislation to decriminalize marijuana that passed the Maryland legislature on Monday, said he supported the measure because current drug laws have imprisoned too many people for nonviolent crimes.
The House's No. 2 Democrat then jokingly reassured reporters he wasn't going to ask for a show of hands, a gesture that seemed to suggest it would be an admission the hand-raiser had tried pot.
"If I did I could raise my hand, I just don't know how many others in the room could raise their hand," he said.
When a reporter asked him what he meant, the room erupted in laughter as Hoyer, himself laughing, said, "It was subtle. The use thereof, or the trying thereof, inhaling or not."
When reporters interrupted him to ask if the word "experimentation" also fit the list, Hoyer, still laughing, added, "Experimentation — I got ya — research — I got ya."
The minority whip didn't definitively say he tried pot, a point Hoyer spokeswoman Stephanie Young was quick to point out to reporters later.
"Mr. Hoyer has not used marijuana," she said. "His point was that this issue affects many people and he believes the Maryland General Assembly took the right step to decriminalize marijuana."
Later in the day, Hoyer also issued a statement denying he ever smoked pot.
"At today’s press conference, I was unclear when discussing the Maryland General Assembly’s actions on marijuana. To be clear, I have not used marijuana," he said. "The point I tried to make was that I wasn’t going to ask for a show of hands of people who haven’t tried marijuana — because if I did, I would probably be one of very few who could raise my hand."
Hoyer also said he doesn't support the full legalization of marijuana.
This article was published at 2:16 p.m. and has been updated.