Bill Clinton didn't inhale -- but Barack Obama definitely did
JFK's experiment reportedly made him a little paranoid
From Barack Obama to John F. Kennedy, there is a rich history of marijuana use – or rumors of it – among American presidents and politicians.
Though pot as a drug has gotten stronger over the years, its effect on voters seems to have diminished. Obama has spoken without reservation about getting high as a teen in Hawaii. At least five of the original 2016 primary candidates had publicly copped lighting up at some point in their lives. And there is suspicion – though no written confirmation – that a number of the early presidents, including some of the Founding Fathers, might have dabbled themselves, although the National Constitution Center has sought to dispel those myths.
Here are seven well known American politicians speaking (or writing) about smoking.
President Barack Obama
The 44th President was a proud member of the self-styled “Choom Gang” during his high school years in Hawaii. According to David Maraniss’ book, “Barack Obama: The Story,” the young Obama was an innovative smoker, who along with his friends got the very most out of every joint.
Obama himself discussed the fundamentals after being elected a senator, but before beginning his first presidential campaign.
“When I was a kid, I inhaled frequently,” he told an interviewer in October 2006. “That was the point.”
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More recently, Obama has mentioned his drug use with great regret. He spoke passionately about his absent father and getting high when he launched his My Brother’s Keeper initiative at the White House in 2014.
“I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short,” he said, adding that back then, rules were more forgiving for kids who made mistakes.
Former President Bill Clinton
In discussing his smoking process, Obama was riffing on Clinton’s famous quasi-admission from 1992. It happened during a New York primary debate. Local reporter Marcia Kramer asked the question and Clinton responded:
“When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it and didn’t inhale and never tried it again.”
The late British writer Christopher Hitchens weighed in some years later, suggesting in a memoir that Clinton, who was at Oxford during the same period, simply preferred edibles.
“He has always been allergic to smoke,” Hitchens wrote. “He preferred, like many another marijuana enthusiast, to take his dope in the form of large handfuls of cookies and brownies.”
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
The Democratic presidential candidate has been a supporter of easing marijuana prohibition laws and said he would vote for legalization on the ballot. He filed a bill in 2015 that would give states the option of legalizing recreational amounts. But Sanders doesn’t seem like he’d partake if given the opportunity to enjoy pot legally.
“I’ve done marijuana twice in my life, when I was very young,” he said in March. “And what it did for me, is it made me cough a lot – that was my response, but I gather other people have had different experiences.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush
At a CNN Republican debate in September 2015, Bush made a very public confession.
“Forty years ago I smoked marijuana and I admit it,” he said. “I’m sure that other people might have done it and might not want to say it in front of 25 million people. My mom’s not happy that I just did.” (He’d apologize to her on Twitter after the debate.)
As an adult, Bush has been a strong opponent of relaxing marijuana laws. But in a February 2015 Boston Globe feature, he admitted having dabbled during his school days.
“I drank alcohol and I smoked marijuana when I was at Andover,” Bush said, discussing his time at the Phillips Academy in Massachusetts. “It was pretty common.”
That’s all Bush would say, but an Andover friend told the Globe, “The first time I really got stoned was in Jeb’s room.”
“He had a portable stereo with removable speakers,” Peter Tibbetts said. “He put on Steppenwolf for me.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz
“Teenagers are often known for their lack of judgment, and Sen. Cruz was no exception,” a spokesman for the candidate told the Daily Mail in February 2015. And with that:
“When he was a teenager, he foolishly experimented with marijuana. It was a mistake, and he’s never tried it since.”
Cruz himself has never spoken publicly about that “experiment,” but the Texas senator has publicly backed the rights of states like Colorado to legalize pot for recreational use.
Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul
Asked if he’d ever smoked pot by Kentucky’s WHAS in December 2014, Paul – who had mostly avoided the question despite his outspoken support for easing drug penalties – admitted this:
“Let’s just say I wasn’t a choir boy when I was in college and that I can recognize that kids make mistakes, and I can say that I made mistakes when I was a kid.”
President John F. Kennedy
It’s no secret that Kennedy used a potent cocktail of prescribed drugs to treat an assortment of physical ailments, most related to his Addison’s disease and severe back pain.
But his alleged taste for marijuana has mostly been the stuff of unconfirmed gossip and rumors. Like the one, first shared by a former Washington Post executive named James Truitt, that tells of Kennedy lighting up with family friend, socialite and lover Mary Pinchot Meyer on a July evening in 1962.
According to a National Enquirer account published in 1976 and later analyzed in The Washington Post, one since rehashed in multiple biographies, JFK and Meyer smoked three joints – provided by Truitt, along with the details – before the President brushed off a fourth.
At that, he said, according to the story: “No more. Suppose the Russians did something now.”