HAMMOND — Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. acknowledged Friday he smoked marijuana at two recent "Grateful Dead" concerts in Chicago, and pledged he will work to legalize marijuana nationwide if he's elected next year to the U.S. Senate.
The five-term leader of Lake County's most populous city described the Sept. 17 and 18 Dead & Company performances at Wrigley Field as "a lovely two days" of music and camaraderie, enhanced by the ability to use marijuana in a state where it is legal.
"Yeah, I went to a Grateful Dead show at Wrigley Field and I smoked weed," McDermott said. "And, by the way, I was driven there and I was driven home, I wasn't intoxicated, it was just a social thing."
McDermott said there was a certain novelty of going to a ballpark he's visited repeatedly over the years and seeing people smoking marijuana by the Chicago Cubs dugout.
But, as he thought more about it, McDermott realized: "Why not? What's the big deal? I was in Chicago, where it's legal. It was an outdoor venue. Grateful Dead shows, by the way, I was there two nights."
"So, yeah, I did," McDermott said. "It's just like drinking alcohol shortly after prohibition ended."
After acknowledging his marijuana use during the unbelievably apt Season 4, Episode 20 program of his "Left of Center" podcast, McDermott shrugged off the suggestion it could harm his campaign for Indiana's Democratic U.S. Senate nomination.
Speaking to podcast co-host Kevin Smith, McDermott said Indiana is missing out on significant tax revenue and economic growth by so far declining to follow other states in allowing the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana.
He said Indiana farmers, retailers and Hoosiers all would benefit from marijuana legalization, and law enforcement no longer would have to spend its time arresting people who bring marijuana into Indiana from neighboring states like Illinois and Michigan where it already is legal.
"Indiana is woefully behind on this," McDermott said. "If I'm elected Indiana's U.S. senator, I'm a vote to decriminalize, I'm a vote to legalize marijuana — and I will.
"And I can tell you, as a former public defender, the only people that are truly penalized with these marijuana laws are the poor that can't hire lawyers and get out of this."
A spokesman for U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., who McDermott is likely to face in next year's general election, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on McDermott's marijuana use, Young's position on marijuana legalization, or whether Young ever has used marijuana.
McDermott quipped: "At least I know how to have fun. If Todd Young went to a Grateful Dead concert he'd probably be wearing a full suit."
Turning more serious, McDermott said he has no problem being asked tough questions because he's always going to be honest in his answers.
"I don't want to be the kind of politician that lies to people, I just don't. So if I'm asked the (marijuana) question: I did," McDermott said. "How often do you hear somebody being honest like I am?"