Newt started off as a user and an advocate of marijuana legalization (at least, medical marijuana), before becoming one of the most passionate opposition of legalization.
“Gingrich’s response to questions about his youthful drug experimentation (“That was a sign we were alive and in graduate school in that era”) was uncharacteristically graceful and in perspective and mature… ”
1 May 1995, New York Magazine, page 42
In 1982, Gingrich, in his capacity as a member of the House of Representatives, wrote a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association expressing his support towards medical marijuana.
“The American Medical Association's Council on Scientific Affairs should be commended for its report, "Marijuana: Its Health Hazards and Therapeutic Potential" (1981;246:1823). Not only does the report outline evidence of marijuana's potential harms, but it distinguishes this concern from the legitimate issue of marijuana's important medical benefits. All too often the hysteria that attends public debate over marijuana's social abuse compromises a clear appreciation for this critical distinction….
Federal law, however, continues to define marijuana as a drug "with no accepted medical use," and federal agencies continue to prohibit physician-patient access to marijuana. This outdated federal prohibition is corrupting the intent of the state laws and depriving thousands of glaucoma and cancer patients of the medical care promised them by their state legislatures…
We believe licensed physicians are competent to employ marijuana, and patients have a right to obtain marijuana legally, under medical supervision, from a regulated source. The medical prohibition does not prevent seriously ill patients from employing marijuana; it simply deprives them of medical supervision and denies them access to a regulated medical substance…
… Federal policies do not reflect a factual or balanced assessment of marijuana's use as a medicant. The Council… might well discover that its own assessment of marijuana's therapeutic value has, in the past, been more than slightly shaded by federal policies that are less than neutral.” March 19, 1982, Journal of the American Medical Association, Newt Gingrich
In 1981, Gingrich introduced a bill to the House floor that sought “to provide for the therapeutic use of marihuana in situations involving life-threatening or sense-threatening illnesses and to provide adequate supplies of marihuana for such use.”
September 16, 1981, H.R.4498, 97th Congress, 2D Session
Gingrich would explain his shift in position in an interview with journalist Hilary Stout in 1996. “See, when I smoked pot it was illegal, but not immoral. Now, it is illegal AND immoral. The law didn't change, only the morality… That's why you get to go to jail and I don't.”
August 8, 1996, Wall Street Journal (Note: Several readers have correctly pointed out that Mr. Gingrich did not, in fact, make the statement in the interview. The quote will be deleted in three days, to allow time for the information to be disseminated. Our thanks to Dr. Steven Taylor, Ph.D. (Professor of Political Science, Troy University), for bringing this to our attention.)
This followed a statement he gave in an interview a year earlier, where Gingrich, for the first time, displayed his hawkish position on the subject of drugs. Explaining the proposed introduction of his bill which advocated a mandatory death penalty for convicted drug smugglers, Newt states, “If you import a commercial quantity of illegal drugs… it is because you have made the personal decision that you are prepared to get rich by destroying our children. I have made the decision that I love our children enough that we will kill you if you do this.”
August 27, 1995, New York Times, Gingrich Suggests Tough Drug Measure
He went on to introduce H.R. 4170 (Drug Importer Death Penalty Act of 1996) to the House of Representatives, which sought to “provide a sentence of death for certain importations of significant quantities of controlled substances”. Section 2: Increased Penalties For International Drug Trafficking
Section 1010 of the Controlled Substances Import and Export Act (21 U.S.C. 960) is amended by adding at the end the following:
(e)(1) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the court shall sentence a person convicted of a violation of subsection (a), consisting of bringing into the United States a mixture or substance-- (A) which is described in subsection (b)(1); and (B) in an amount the Attorney General by rule has determined is equal to 100 usual dosage amounts of such mixture or substance; to imprisonment for life without possibility of release. If the defendant has violated this subsection on more than one occasion and the requirements of chapter 228 of title 18, United States Code, are satisfied, the court shall sentence the defendant to death. (2) The maximum fine that otherwise may be imposed, but for this subsection, shall not be reduced by operation of this subsection.'
September 25, 1996, 104th Congress (1995 - 1996), H.R.4170