Rob Quist’s call to decriminalize marijuana use is more than a policy platform for the Democrat running to fill Montana’s vacant U.S. House seat in a special election next week.

It’s personal.

After an interrupted interview, his campaign staff said Quist was cited for possession in 1971. On Thursday, a reporter had asked the Creston musician, “Have you ever been cited for marijuana use?”

“No,” Quist said. The call abruptly ended.

A text message to the campaign staffer traveling with Quist was not immediately returned. In an email an hour later, a different campaign staffer, spokeswoman Tina Olechowski, said it was a misunderstanding.

“Sorry for the bad connection. I just talked to Rob and he said he thought you were asking whether he was recently cited and the answer is no,” she wrote.

Quist has previously stated that he supports legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use, or at minimum decriminalizing its use. His opponent, Republican Greg Gianforte of Bozeman, has said he supports limited medical use and the right of states "to make their own decision," but not legal recreational use, according to a campaign statement.

Requests for phone interviews with both candidates were not fulfilled as of 3 p.m. Thursday as they made final campaign stops leading up to the May 25 election.

The 2016 book “Montana Americana Music” cites an interview with Quist in a 1974 book by Joseph Mussulman. The former University of Montana professor led the Jubileers singing group, of which Quist was a member, and was writing about the rise of the Mission Mountain Wood Band.

“We were really close to finishing school when we got caught (smoking marijuana) … . I found out I couldn’t get a degree if I had a record,” Quist recounted for the book, saying Mussulman told them they had to quit the glee club and write an apology letter to the community that would run in the Missoulian. “Well, we couldn’t do that and look at ourselves in the mirror, so we packed up and left town (for New York City).”

Use, possession or distribution of drugs including “cannabis, marijuana (and) Indian hemp” was banned by the Student Code of Conduct, according to UM’s 1971 course catalog. Violators were subject to probation, which permitted students to continue classes if they meet certain conditions, or suspension, which barred enrollment for a semester or longer.

Court records from a 1994 malpractice lawsuit filed by Quist included reference to a medical intake form on which he admitted to smoking marijuana “two or three times a month.”

It is unclear why Quist smoked and if he continues to do so today. The use of a drug illegal under federal law might have contributed to Quist leaving UM in 1971, but it is unlikely to cripple today’s bid to join U.S. Congress. Numerous national leaders have admitted to past pot use, most downplaying it as a youthful experiment that was harmless or regrettable. National sentiments about the drug also have shifted substantially.

Gallup has surveyed Americans about whether they think marijuana should be legalized since 1969. That year, only 12 percent said they did. Support grew to 30 percent by 1978 then dropped to 16 percent by 1990 when the nation was in the heart of the War on Drugs characterized by numerous legal reforms stiffening penalties for drug use.

Although stark generational gaps exist, 2013 marked the first time a majority of Americans, 52 percent, supported legalization.

Numerous surveys in recent years report that almost half of Americans have used marijuana at least once and about one in 10 have done so in the last year, rates that the Pew Research Center reports vary little by political party affiliation.

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