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President Obama smoked pot in high school. Why is he against legalizing marijuana?

A new biography details Barack Obama's use of marijuana in high school and college, not unusual for a young man at that time. As president, Obama has taken a tougher line on drug use, including marijuana for medical reasons.

By Staff writer / May 26, 2012

An unidentified man smokes medical marijuana during karaoke night at the Cannabis Café, in Portland, Ore. last year.

Rick Bowmer/AP


When he was “drug czar” in the administration of George H. W. Bush, William Bennett was asked if he’d ever smoked marijuana.

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“No,” he reportedly said, grinning. “Besides, I was very young at the time.”

Or as former president George W. Bush said when deflecting questions about his drug use decades ago, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.”

“Youthful indiscretion” is a phrase often heard among politicians in recent years – typically referring to extra-marital affairs (sometimes occurring when the adulterer was in his 40s).

When he wasn’t being questioned (or impeached) about his alleged womanizing, former president Bill Clinton acknowledged having smoked marijuana “a time or two” when he was a Rhodes Scholar in England – although he was quick to point out that he “didn't inhale and never tried it again.”

How much do you know about marijuana? Take our quiz.

Now it’s Barack Obama’s turn to come under scrutiny for drug use.

In his new biography “Barack Obama: The Story,” to be published next month but widely excerpted in the press, David Maraniss of the Washington Post details Obama’s marijuana smoking when the future president was a high school student in Hawaii.

With a group of friends who called themselves “The Choom Gang” (mostly basketball buddies) the future president rode around in a VW van or hung out at a favorite island spot up Mount Tantalus on Oahu, smoking marijuana and sometime drinking beer.

"They parked single file on the grassy edge, turned up their stereos playing Aerosmith, Blue Öyster Cult, and Stevie Wonder, lit up some 'sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds,' and washed it down with 'green bottled beer' (the Choom Gang preferred Heineken, Beck's, and St. Pauli Girl)," Mr. Maraniss writes. "No shouting, no violence, no fights; they even cleaned up their beer bottles. This was their haven, in the darkness high above the city and the pressures of Punahou” – the private college-prep school Obama attended from fifth grade through graduation in 1979.

The news that Obama used drugs for a while years ago – which is not really news; he acknowledges the fact in his autobiography “Dreams from My Father” – probably doesn’t shock or even surprise many Americans versed in today’s arguments about the failings of the “drug war” and the legalization of marijuana, including for medicinal purposes.

“New data … show that marijuana use is becoming a more acceptable behavior among teens, and heavy marijuana use is now at disturbingly high levels,” the Partnership for a Drug-Free America reported this month.

“Nearly half of teens (47 percent) have ever used marijuana – a 21 percent increase since 2008. Additionally, two out of every five teens (39 percent) have tried marijuana in the past year, up from 31 percent in 2008,” according to the report. “Past-month use has increased 42 percent from 19 percent in 2008 to 27 percent in 2011. Heavy monthly use (20 or more times) is up 80 percent from 5 percent to 9 percent in 2011.”


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