Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari called a few days ago for mandatory drug testing for all California legislators and statewide officeholders. Then, some hours later, he said he had been joking.

My first reaction, before he recanted, was that this was a terrible waste of money, given the abundant evidence we already have about politicians’ deficits in judgment and thinking. Would anyone be surprised if it turned out our elected officials are, well, on something?

But once I knew this was but a joke, I reconsidered.

What would be the harm – as long as no one was punished or run out of the legislature for testing positive?

Many jobs require drug testing. An initiative on the ballot would require drug testing of doctors (which is a good idea, even if the rest of the initiative isn’t). Legislators have pushed in the recent past for bring drug testing into sports. And drug tests are very much a part of our corrections system, which is a mess for which the legislature bears some responsibility. Wouldn’t it be a good data point to know how much drug use there is among our leaders, who make some of these laws? It would certainly inform the debate about decriminalization of drugs.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the use was higher among legislators than in the general population. Wouldn’t you have to be under the influence to agree to take a job where your power is constrained? Can you really be in your right mind if you seek and hold a job that guarantees you will be the constant target of contempt and scorn from all corners of the state?

The more I thought about, the more I recognized that Kashkari’s proposal-joke misses one key point: why limit testing to people already in office? If drugs are such a threat to policymaking, why not test the politicians before they hold office, so we can know what people are taking before they win office?

For example, could drugs explain why candidates sometimes make very strange jokes?