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article imageSmoking pot: Did Obama inhale?

By Yukio Strachan     May 26, 2012 in Politics
While Bill Clinton notoriously "didn't inhale" at Oxford, Barack Obama inhaled. Frequently, happily and allegedly those who didn't inhale were assessed a penalty, according to a new biography.
Various websites published excerpts on Friday from an upcoming book on the U.S. president containing fresh details about his enthusiasm for marijuana as a young man, adding a bit of levity to a close and increasingly nasty presidential race, CTV writes.
The new excerpts, which were widely distributed over the internet following their publication on Friday on the website, say that when Obama attended the elite Punahou School in Hawaii, he went by the name Barry and was a member of a group of boys called the Choom Gang who loved to play basketball and smoke marijuana.
According to the Telegraph, the group derived its name from the slang word choom, which means to smoke.
Maraniss portrays the teenage Obama as not just a pot smoker, but a pot-smoking innovator, ABC news reports.
“As a member of the Choom Gang,” Maraniss writes, “Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends.”
Barack Obama
This picture was reprinted in Times magazine and shared with Obama's friends by email before the election. It was given to me for printing by an associate friend of one of Obama's roommates who sent the picture out to select people before the election of Obama to the Presidency. He is shown here while in college, not long after graduation from Punahou School
Album, Blalock
The first Obama-inspired trend: “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,” explains Maraniss. Here’s how it worked: If you exhaled prematurely when you were with the Choom Gang, “you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around.”
As one of Obama’s old high school buddies tells Maraniss: “Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated.”
Another Obama innovation: “Roof Hits.”
“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.”
Maraniss also says Obama was known for his “Interceptions”: “When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted ‘Intercepted!,’ and took an extra hit.”
Audacity of Dope
As you can imagine, the various media organizations had fun with the new revelations.
The Washington Post rounded up a few of their favorites:
Yahoo: Bill Clinton he was not.
BuzzFeed has a handy “User’s Guide To Smoking Pot With Barack Obama” compiled from excerpts in Maraniss’s book.
Time’s post is titled the “Audacity of Dope.”
And NPR has “Inhale to the chief”
Buzzfeed entitled its post on the revelations "A User's Guide to Smoking Pot with Barack Obama," while a Twitter wag joked that the Republicans now had potential ammunition in hand.
The point was to inhale
As CTV notes, unlike Bill Clinton, who admitted to smoking weed while running for president but famously denied inhaling, Obama has always been open about the fact that he toked in high school and college.
Time reports that asked by a voter in 2008 whether, unlike Bill Clinton, he had “inhaled,” Obama said he did: “It’s not something that I’m proud of. It was a mistake … But you know, I’m not going to. I never understood that line. The point was to inhale. That was the point.”
Obama first publicly acknowledged his drug use as a youth in his 1995 memoir, "Dreams of My Father."
Junkie. Pothead. That’s where I’d been headed: the final, fatal role of the young would-be black man. Except the highs hadn’t been about that, me trying to prove what a down brother I was. Not by then, anyway. I got high for just the opposite effect, something that could push questions of who I was out of my mind, something that could flatten out the landscape of my heart, blur the edges of my memory.
I had discovered that it didn’t make any difference whether you smoked reefer in the white classmate’s sparkling new van, or in the dorm room of 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 and now spent most of their time looking for an excuse to brawl. Nobody asked you whether your father was a fat-cat executive who cheated on his wife or some laid-off joe who slapped you around whenever he bothered to come home. You might just be bored, or alone.
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 …
According to ABC news, Maraniss concludes his chapter on Obama’s high school years by looking at a note Obama had written in his high school yearbook in a section reserved for students to give a line or two giving thanks to those who helped along the way.
Obama and His Grandparents
Young Barack Obama and his grandparents.
Courtesy Obama for America
“Thanks Tut [his grandmother], Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times,” young Obama wrote.
Maraniss notes: “Ray was the older guy who hung around the Choom Gang, selling them pot. A hippie drug dealer made his acknowledgements; his mother did not.”
The White House told ABC News that it has no comment.
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