Politicians who inhaled – does anyone care?

jointinhandDoes smoking marijuana hurt political careers? That may seem settled in the U.S., as demonstrated by this light-hearted list from as long ago as 2008 in the New York Times: “Some Inhaled. Some Didn’t. One Ate It With Beans.”

President Barack Obama got his drug use out front and out of the way in his autobiography – which was a smart tactic. Some who knew Obama in his youth think he may have exaggerated that story in a calculated effort to up his street credibility. (Indeed, he seems to have had more trouble with quitting smoking than with illegal drugs.)

According to the NYT article cited above, when asked about using pot by New York magazine in 2001, then-candidate Michael Bloomberg answered: ”You bet I did. And I enjoyed it.” (Remarks Mayor Bloomberg came to regret after they were repeated in an ad that favored legalization, though he says they sprang from his own cannot-tell-a-lie philosophy.)

At this point, there seems to be no real penalty for so-called youthful indiscretion. But how about recent use by elected officials? Does that matter more?

August can be a slow news month, which may explain how and why that topic has been bouncing around here in Canada. It began when the new Liberal Party Leader, Justin Trudeau, admitted this:

“We had a few good friends over for a dinner party, our kids were at their grandmother’s for the night, and one of our friends lit a joint and passed it around. I had a puff,” he told the Huffington Post website.

According to press accounts, that took place three years ago. Trudeau is the charismatic son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He was elected to his own seat in parliament in 2008. Trudeau says he’s used pot maybe 5-6 times in his life.

With a much touted tough-on-crime posture, the ruling Conservative Party hoped this event would offer more proof the 41-year-old Trudeau lacks the maturity and judgement expected in anyone hoping to defeat current Prime Minister Stephen Harper for Canada’s top job.

So a number of conservative figures heaped scorn on the admission. Current Minister of Justice and Attorney General Peter Mackay called Trudeau’s action illegal, which prompted counter-criticism from a law professor who says Mackay should know better. The point being it’s illegal to grow, traffic and possess marijuana in Canada, but it’s not illegal to smoke it, according to this account from the Huffington Post:

University of Ottawa professor Amir Attaran has written to the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society asking that they investigate MacKay, a former provincial Crown prosecutor and, as the current Attorney General of Canada, the person charged with enforcing the rules of the land, for unprofessional conduct as a lawyer.

A small rush to confess followed from other Canadian political figures, including Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne (who added she’s not indulged in 35 years) and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who said: “Oh, yeah. I’ve smoked a lot of it.” (Ford, it should be noted, has his own set of problems relating to alleged drug use.)

Judging by the public reaction though, this issue does not register with average voters in a significant way. Sure, some feel lawmakers have an even greater responsibility to uphold the law. But others say this proves Trudeau is more in touch with modern times and more willing to be open in discussing controversial topics. A number of political observers call it a calculated tactic to woo voters who would prefer more transparent leadership.

Will it work? It may, because in the greater scheme of things, this seems so very minor, according to this CBC article on the loosening of some taboos:

“It’s a little bit like going 120 [kph] on the highway. Almost everybody drives 120 on the highway. That’s against the law as well,” said Jaime Watt, executive chairman of Navigator, a political communications firm.

(Official upper speed limits in Canada tend to be no higher than 100 kph, or about 60 mph. 120 kph is about 75 mph. Driving 100 kph on Canadian freeways will get you passed by most other cars. Some of those drivers will be angry at anyone moving that slowly.)

As reported by the CBC, Trudeau told a crowd at a recent Liberal Party event in PEI the ensuing debate “blew his mind”

“Only in Stephen Harper’s Canada could people actually argue that being honest was a calculated risk,” said Trudeau. He said he didn’t talk about his past marijuana use because he wants to disclose “every little last detail, the public sphere is not supposed to be Oprah,” but rather because of the position he backs when it comes to legalization.

Both the U.S. and Canada seem muddled on the question of marijuana use. In the U.S. this past week, the Justice Department made headlines by announcing the feds would not sue to block laws in 20 US states (plus the District of Columbia) that permit marijuana use. As reported in the New York Times:

Marijuana advocates praised the decision as a potentially historic shift in the federal government’s attitude toward a drug it once viewed as a menace to public health. By allowing states to legalize and regulate marijuana, advocates said, the federal government could reduce jail populations and legal backlogs, create thousands of jobs, and replenish state coffers with marijuana taxes.

I could close by asking if readers think marijuana should be de-criminalized or legalized. Or why that topic isn’t the focus of the same sort of push seen for gay marriage in recent years.

But society appears tired of the marijuana fight – happier to drift toward wide-spread indifference. Sort of the “it’s easier to ask forgiveness than get permission” principle.

Or do you disagree? Is marijuana an issue that still resonates with voters?

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20 Responses to “Politicians who inhaled – does anyone care?”

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  1. John Warren says:

    Your observation that “At this point, there seems to be no real penalty for so-called youthful indiscretion” may be true for Mayors and Presidents, but it’s not true for the millions who have been adversely affected by the pot laws over the years. Some spent the better part of their lives in prison, some are still refused jobs, the right to vote (as felons), the destruction of their families, the loss of homes and other possessions. No doubt quite a few have lost their lives in vicious police attacks and hopelessness.

    If we’re going to talk about the pot laws, it’s incumbent upon us to not focus on those favored with political connections, advanced college degrees, and access to media, but to focus on the millions affected who were simply regular people caught up in nearly a century of right-wing hysteria fueled by the media (the drug-war’s number one ally).

    And BTW, the fight to end the drug war has been going on just as strongly for many more years than the fight for civil rights for people of all genders. Unfortunately, a media obsessing on whether or not Bill Clinton or Barack Obama smoked pot, STILL can’t put the history of the war on pot smokers, and their role in it, in it’s proper perspective.

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  2. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    All I know about Canada is what I read in the news ( and a few delightful vacations in your fine country), but from what I’ve been seeing you all smoke pot up there, all your public officials do anyway, right? So what is the big controversy. Seems like you guys do well being stoned all the time. You have strong currency, sensible foreign policy, lots of good musicians and actors, calm and sensible temperament…what is not to like? I wish more of our politicians would roll a doobie, smoke a bone, do a bong hit, (whatever) down here. Maybe Obama and Kerry and the Joint (I’m not making this up) Chiefs could burn a couple and figure out a better way to deal with Syria.

    Now that I’m thinking of it I’m getting a hankering to head up north of the border for a little vacation.

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  3. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    (Psst, John! The War on Drugs is really a War on Minorities. Didn’t you get the memo? Don’t tell the minority people.)

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  4. jeff says:

    Under 25 is immaturity. Over 25 is stupid. Either way impairing oneself in a situation that can potentially harm others is criminal and worthy of discipline. Impairment includes harming unborn children. After all, harming others has come to include eating hydrogenated foods and subsequently harming the healthcare “system.” And Bloomberg wants to limit pop consumption. Pop is bad and pot is not? Oh yea, the dose makes the poison. In one doesn’t start, they don’t have to quit.

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  5. Pete Klein says:

    Let’s just make everything illegal and lock everyone up. This would, of course, include all those who advocate for more and more things being made illegal because they think that means they are the good people who are always being shocked and offended by everything.

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  6. jeff says:

    Trouble is there are not enough adults saying certain behavior is not acceptable because the other “half” retorts, “by whose standards…” I’ll do as I please.

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  7. Jim Bullard says:

    I had the opportunity in college but never tried pot. I don’t drink enough to say that I do either, wine once or twice a year. Haven’t had a mixed drink in well over a decade. Not that there’s anything wrong with it as Seinfeld was wont to say. I just seem to be one of a rare group who enjoy their un-obscured faculties more than the fog that comes with such pastimes as drinking and smoking pot. OTOH I do think we make too much of pot in our legal system. Contrary to the hype I don’t think it automatically leads to hard drug use. Strong social disapproval along with age requirements would be more appropriate than throwing people in prison for using pot.

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  8. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Straight-Edge is cool and all, but when people who are younger than 70 say they have never smoked pot or dropped acid or done some ‘shrooms I have a hard time understanding how they can judge whether use of a particular consciousness altering substance is bad or not. Lots of people choose not to ingest certain things on principle – drugs, meat, pork, tobacco, alcohol, whatever – hey, it’s a free country (sort of). But then there are government agencies and corporations telling them that they don’t have a right to know if there are GMO’s in their food, for example; so on the one hand society is telling us that it is wrong to ingest a natural plant, and on the other they are telling us we don’t have a right not to ingest a Frankenfood.

    There is some recent research showing that the use of certain hallucinogens may have beneficial psychological effects. There have been people using marijuana medicinally since the dawn of human history, and modern science has recognized the benefits. Some people are too uptight.

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  9. mervel says:

    I don’t know, I think it comes down to who you are, not necessarily illegalities or not.

    Do most people want someone who is a drunk to be their leader? Probably not, smoking pot just to get high and not for medial reasons is no different than being a drunk, it isn’t good for you personally or for your career. The fact that he smoked a joint with friends just shows he is still a spoiled little child and unfit to lead much of anything.

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  10. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Even Jesus drank wine. Didn’t make him a drunk.

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  11. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Man! Come to think of it, wouldn’t Jesus make a great drinking buddy? “Hey Jesus, I’m running a little low over here; do you mind doing that thing?” Imagine the long talks you could have with him! Except for all those needy lepers and cripples hanging around would be a bit of a buzz-kill. (Yes, Jesus had a sense of humor – the best ever.)

    And then there was Moses up on the mountain with the “burning bush.” Just what kind of bush was that anyway? He came down from the mountain with a whole lot of good ideas. Makes you wonder.

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  12. Lucy Martin says:

    More on the cannabis debate in Canada from Laura Ryckewaert of the Hill Times on line.

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  13. mervel says:

    Oh I drink wine and beer also.

    But the point of pot is not a glass of wine or two with your food, the point of pot is one thing to get high and only high. I think it certainly has medical use that has been missed, I think it should be decriminalized in the US. However from a leadership perspective, no if your over 25 and still stupid enough to smoke pot; as stated above it simply shows you are not ready to be a leader.

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  14. mervel says:

    I have several friends who still smoke pot (they are OLD), and they are great guys, and they are totally unqualified to be in charge of anything except their own lives and they do ok with that.

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  15. dave says:

    Most people have two glasses of wine with dinner for the same reasons some people smoke a little pot after dinner… and both of those activities are similar to the reasons some people take certain prescription drugs. To relax, to feel better, to lighten up, to de-stress… in other words, to alter their mood a little, positively. Call it getting high, or drunk, or buzzed, or whatever you want – it is all the same thing. And it is all ok in moderation and bad when abused.

    Trying to justify some methods of doing this, while denouncing another, simply doesn’t make a lot of sense. There is no rational argument you can make for alcohol and zanex use that also excludes marijuana. So in order to justify the condemnation of pot, our society has made up all sorts of false and inaccurate claims about it. Thankfully, the scientific and medical communities are coming around on this, Sanjay Gupta being the most recent.

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  16. David says:

    Seems to me that one of the consequences of a 24/7 media firehose is the mining of needless trivia about other people’s lives that allows us to massage our repressed, puritannical and controlling biases. And again, it seems to me Taj Mahal had it right all along, “Ain’t nobody’s business but my own.” We all live in a glass house of our own making. Don’t throw stones.

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  17. mervel says:

    No its more about the elitism of a guy who thinks he does not have to follow the laws and constraints that working people have to follow, its not really about pot.

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  18. mervel says:

    Gupta is talking about very legitimate means of using pot for medical purposes, but the pot head crowd is of course taking it to the next level. Yes getting drunk is no better than getting stoned I agree.

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  19. mervel says:

    But of course in this case a guy is saying my daddy exempts me from the rules of other people.

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  20. John W: In fairness, NCPR has done some good reporting on the prison-industrial complex and the insane drug laws that have undermined it for so long.

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