FARMINGTON — I am taking a Sacramento Bee column published in the Jan. 11 Press Herald as a signal to dredge up a bit of neglected history. The column, by the dean of the law school at Berkeley, mocks Attorney General Jeff Sessions for lagging behind public opinion on marijuana prohibition. With all the modesty for which I am widely admired, I write to point out that I was in touch with public opinion and ahead of politician opinion in 2008.

During my appearance on a Bangor talk show as the Republican candidate for Congress in the 2nd District, a man called in to ask my stand on legalizing the production, sale and consumption of marijuana. I judged from his demanding tone that he was on a mission to expose me as a reactionary persecutor of inoffensive weed-heads. He seemed surprised, maybe disappointed, when I endorsed legalization.

Legalization had not been an important issue for me, but I remembered a 1996 symposium in the conservative National Review. The four participants had all fought in the war on drugs. All had come to the reluctant conclusion that their efforts had been fruitless. In 2008, a high-ranking Mexican police official had written about his tactics in the war, and bemoaned their uselessness. The economist Milton Friedman had long ago pointed out that suppressing production of marijuana will produce a shortage of the product, which will increase prices for it if demand remains undiminished. Profits increase and more people are drawn into the marijuana trade. You are back at the starting point.

I had only sketchy knowledge of the debate about legalization, but did not wish to color my response to the caller with qualifications that might induce suspicions of evasion. This would undercut the whole point of my campaign. Although all three 2006 Republican gubernatorial candidates – Chandler Woodcock, Peter Mills and David F. Emery – encouraged me to run, none expected an obscure retired academic to overturn an entrenched incumbent in 2009. They were just pleased to have a candidate, any candidate who could fill the space on the ballot.

Unburdened by other people’s hopes and claiming no party resources, I was free to say what was on my mind about any issue. When the political and media critic Al Diamon introduced me as a candidate committed to saying exactly what was on his mind, he identified my purpose. Relying on the written word, published in local weeklies, free newspapers and on my own website, my goal was to demonstrate what a serious campaign looked like. “Serious” meant no hired hacks, no polls, no promises, no television, no evasions, no influence by donors.

Therefore, when asked the question, I answered without qualification. After committing myself, I tested my position at the Farmington Fair. When asked, the couple at a booth offering religious tracts endorsed legalization enthusiastically. They introduced me to a man offering free pocket Bibles. It turned out that when his brother was wasting away from AIDS, the one thing that sustained his appetite was the weed.

An invitation to address a Christian Civic League meeting provided a chance to explain my reasoning. The applause was polite rather than enthusiastic. Some post-speech conversations showed there were people present who wished that Prohibition had succeeded but recognized its failure and saw the parallels with marijuana. Some agreed that the plant’s effects were milder than those of alcohol.

Pursuing transparency all the way, I further tested public reaction by addressing the annual pro-weed festival in Starks. I described the effects of a plate of brownies. The brownies were surprisingly tasty, but the effects were nothing but annoying. They were so unpleasant that I went to bed to sleep them off. What followed was the stupidest set of dreams ever encountered – idiotic plots, unconvincing characters, stupid dialogue.

In conclusion, I told the crowd, suppressing the use of marijuana would be OK by me if it could be done without harm, but I saw no way for it to work. Most of the audience nodded placidly through the whole speech, although some older gents I spoke with afterward seemed downright grateful.

Was I the only Republican congressional candidate in the U.S. to advocate legalization in 2008? Did any Democratic candidate do so? This can’t be said for certain in the absence of a national survey, but it seems likely. When asked, Mike Michaud, then the Democratic 2nd District incumbent, opposed legalization. His argument that legalization might endanger children is no more or less valid today.

It doesn’t matter. Public opinion has shifted, and the politicians, having heard the call to “leadership,” have rushed to support my little-noticed, now-forgotten stance. Unlike Jeff Sessions, they know enough not to lag behind public opinion.