WASHINGTON - It was a misunderstanding, it seems, but even in this era of looser marijuana laws, the prospect of a top congressman smoking pot was not taken lightly.
Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, seemed to suggest during a news briefing with reporters Tuesday that he had tried marijuana.
Hoyer is a cautious politician and a fairly moderate Democrat - known more as the long-serving, silver-haired House whip than a lawmaker prone to trouble.
The 73-year-old had been asked about legislation being signed into law by his state's governor to decriminalize possession of small amounts of pot.
Hoyer said he supported the action, adding that a show of hands around the room would illustrate how many people drug laws can effect. Then he raised his own hand.
"The use thereof, the trying thereof - inhaling or not," said Hoyer, chuckling a bit.
The comment punctuated an otherwise routine budget briefing. The clarification from his office was swift and certain.
"Mr. Hoyer has not used marijuana," his spokeswoman, Stephanie Young, said moments later on Twitter.
The congressman, acknowledging he had been "unclear," added his own clarification.
"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 the very few who could raise my hand," Hoyer said in a statement. "To be clear, I have not used marijuana."