Audacity of Dope: Tales of a Toking Teenage Obama

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We knew Barack Obama smoked weed in high school because he wrote about it in his books. What we didn’t know, until Buzzfeed posted these choice nuggets (I’m so sorry) from David Maraniss’s new book on the President’s younger years, were the giggle-worthy details of his “Choom Gang” lifestyle, which are right out of a buddy stoner flick. Obama and his friends drove around the lush Hawaii countryside, hot-boxing their VW bus and re-upping with a long-haired pizza-tossing dealer named Ray, whom Obama thanked in his yearbook “for all the good times.” We even learn about the Choom Gang’s lingo:

Barry also had a knack for interceptions. When a joint was making the rounds, he often elbowed his way in, out of turn, shouted, “Intercepted!,” and took an extra hit. No one seemed to mind.

Precious. Of course, Obama has since disavowed this lifestyle, and it’s unlikely to factor politically. 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.” In Dreams from My Father, Obama described that time in his life as the first stage of a serious and transformative identity crisis:

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 …

Like the other details leaked from his forthcoming biography, Maraniss’s findings bring the President’s lofty narrative back down to earth. Obama was a teenager in Hawaii and a grad student in New York. All the smoking and angsty lit crit that goes along with those things were part of his life, and now we get to know the dank details. It would be hypocrisy to judge him for it, but hey, it’s fun to laugh a bit at the folly.

PHOTOS: Obama, the College Years

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