Obama talks smoking weed with college students
Barack Obama has been partying like a rock star since he left the White House.
He has spent the last few months kite-boarding with a billionaire off the coast of a private island, hanging around on a superyacht in Tahiti with more billionaires and rock stars and megacelebrities and, we’re assuming, furnishing his five homes spread across the U.S.
But you know Barack Obama: He just can’t stay out of the spotlight. And so, on Monday, Mr. Obama showed up for his first big event since leaving office in January. He participated in a discussion with students at the University of Chicago, where he was once a visiting professor teaching constitutional law. The avuncular Mr. Obama sat cross-legged on stage with a half-dozen young people, musing about life, politics — and smoking weed.
“I would advise all of you to be a little more circumspect about your selfies,” Mr. Obama said to laughter (even though he was known to take a LOT of selfies).
“If you had pictures of everything I’d done when I was in high school, I probably wouldn’t have been president of the United States,” he said.
And then he segued into his days as a pothead in a group called the Choom Gang. Lest you forget, David Maraniss’ biography “Barack Obama: The Story” details Mr. Obama’s days of smoking marijuana with his friends in Honolulu.
Mr. Obama’s friend Mark Bendix often served as chauffeur in his Volkswagen minibus, known as “the Choomwagon.” The group of teens would head off to Mount Tantalus, where they parked, “turned up their stereos playing Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult and Stevie Wonder, lit up some ‘sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds’ and washed it down with ‘green bottled beer’ (the Choom Gang preferred Heineken, Becks, and St. Pauli Girl).” Good times.
Mr. Maraniss writes that Mr. Obama was a champion weed smoker. “When they were chooming in a car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.”
And Mr. Obama inspired the goal of “Total Absorption,” or “TA.”
“TA was the opposite of Bill Clinton’s claim that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford he smoked dope but never inhaled,” Mr. Maraniss wrote. When it was your turn to hit the joint, if you exhaled early, “you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around.”
So it was interesting that on Monday, Mr. Obama warned kids not to photograph themselves too much because “everything’s searchable.”
Recalling his autobiography “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama said, “Because I had been pretty honest about the struggles I went though as a young man, uh, when I ran for office and there was some big reveal about, ‘Oh, the guy smoked pot,’ it’s like, ‘Yeah, no, it’s in my book,’” he said to laughter and applause. “I, I, I, and, and, and, I, I learned from that, I, I, I didn’t sugarcoat it. I didn’t suggest that somehow it had been, uh, you know, something that I recommend for everybody.
“But that’s what teenage kids did at that age when I was where I was growing up. Not everybody. Some were wiser than me. I wasn’t that wise.”
Ah, but Mr. Obama was there to make sure that young people know they can smoke weed — and still become president. It worked for him, right? Such a good role model.
• Joseph Curl has covered politics for 25 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent at The Washington Times. He also ran the Drudge Report as morning editor for four years. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter [email protected]
Copyright © 2021 The Washington Times, LLC.
Barack Obama has been partying like a rock star since he left the White House.
Obama and Marijuana: Then and Now
What was your favorite badaboom in President Obama’s routine at the White House Correspondents dinner? Here’s mine, from when he was talking about how “the media landscape is changing so rapidly”:
You can’t keep up with it. I mean, I remember when BuzzFeed was just something I did in college around two A.M. (Laughter.) It’s true! (Laughter.)
Obama’s joke shows how far we’ve come since the not-so-long-ago days when standard operating procedure for a politician outed on pot smoking was to plead “youthful experimentation,” express contrition, and boast modestly of having straightened up and flown right. This President, as far as I know, has never said any such thing; he has no apparent regrets in that department. His joke allowed the tuxedoed, evening-gowned, middle-aged audience at the Washington Hilton to feel, for a precious moment, hip. The subtext was that smoking pot, whether a lot or a little, is just a normal part of growing up—maybe even, for some, part of being grown up. Marijuana doesn’t seem to have ruined his life, which has been pretty successful so far. Nor has it done much to blight the lives of the other people in the Hilton ballroom, most of whom, like the rest of the media, political, and Hollywood élites, have smoked pot, too.
We are now on our third straight (so to speak) President who, the evidence more than suggests, have personally flouted the laws against having possession of marijuana. But the incumbent is the first who has an irrefutable history as an “enthusiastic” (his characterization, not mine) stoner. If you read “Dreams from My Father,” then you know that Obama liked not only the drug’s psychoactive effects but also what might be called its democratizing qualities:
I had discovered that it didn’t make any difference if you smoked reefer in the white classmate’s sparkling new van, or in the dorm room with some brother you’d met down at the gym, or on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids who had dropped out of school…. Everybody was welcome into the club of disaffection. And if the high didn’t solve whatever it was that was getting you down, it could at least help you laugh at the world’s ongoing folly and see through all the hypocrisy and bullshit and cheap moralism.
David Maraniss, in “Barack Obama: The Story,” provides some pungent detail, helpfully summarized by none other than BuzzFeed. Young Barry, leader of a Punahou School clique styling itself the Choom Gang, pioneered “T.A.”—short for Total Absorption, the polar opposite of “I didn’t inhale.” Among other recreations, the future President was into “roof hits,” a non-wasteful method of smoking pot in a car (usually that white classmate’s V.W. bus, dubbed the Choomwagon) with the windows rolled up. Once the joint was reduced to a roach but some smoke was still trapped overhead, he and his friends would crane their necks upward to whoosh in the last wisps. He was also adept at “interceptions,” i.e., sneaking an extra toke when it wasn’t his turn—a risky stratagem, punishable, if noticed, by being skipped over on the next pass-around.
The problem with the joke, as with all those knowing chuckles at the Hilton, is that a great many people are suffering on account of marijuana—just not from the weed itself. Like young Obama, people who smoke marijuana do so because they find that it alleviates suffering (psychological, spiritual, physical), or simply because it helps them relax and enjoy themselves. Marijuana-associated suffering enters the picture only when prohibition does:
Police prosecuted 858,408 persons for marijuana violations in 2009, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Report.… Of those charged with marijuana violations, approximately 88 percent (758,593 Americans) were charged with possession only. The remaining 99,815 individuals were charged with “sale/manufacture,” a category that includes virtually all cultivation offenses.
There are still states where simple possession can theoretically put you in prison for life if it’s your third strike, but outrages like the one John Lennon immortalized thirty years ago are rare. Even so, tens of thousands of people still languish in federal and state prisons for marijuana offenses in a typical year, and just about everybody who gets busted for pot spends time locked up. Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, estimates that from fifty to a hundred thousand Americans are behind bars for pot, and only pot, on any given night. The longer-term consequences can be a lot worse than a few hours of humiliating inconvenience. If you’re employed, you can lose your job. If you’re in college, you can lose your financial aid and you will lose your eligibility for student loans, as have some two hundred thousand of your peers. If you’re undocumented, you’ll probably get deported. If you’re a parolee, you’re apt to find yourself back in jail for the remainder of your sentence. All of which, of course, is but a small part of the suffering caused by the gargantuan, perpetual “war on drugs.”
So the joke was perhaps a little tasteless, if you’re the sensitive type. Not as callous as the video Bush junior made for the 2004 dinner, in which he pretended to look under the Oval Office furniture, mumbling, “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere.” But still a trifle discomfiting.
What was your favorite badaboom in President Obama’s routine at the White House Correspondents dinner? Here’s mine, from when he was talking about how …