Obama’s Weed Wars: Stoner on Stoner Crime

If the President was such a pothead in his youth, what gives with the cannabis crackdown now?

We’ve known from the start that there’s a former stoner in the White House, we just didn’t know to what extent he had stoned. But now, with excerpts from David Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story hitting the web amid the President’s ongoing medical marijuana crackdown, it’s becoming clear that President Obama didn’t just dabble with cannabis during his high-school years at the Punahou School in Hawaii—he was evidently a full-blown pothead.

A key member of the “Choom Gang,” Obama was known early as an innovator, at least in terms of cannabis inhalation. In Maraniss’s book, other members of the Choom Gang credit the prez with the invention of the “Total Absorption” technique (TA for short) and the concept of roof hits when chooming (get it?) in a vehicle, two smoking methods that allowed for extremely efficient use of the gang’s precious smoke. After all, as Choom Gang member Tom Topolinski explained, “wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated.”

Stealing it, however, appears to have been. Beyond being known as an innovator, President Obama, commonly called Barry in those days, was also known for his “interceptions” during smoking circles as a way of getting an extra hit. According to Maraniss’s book, this apparently happened fairly frequently, which either makes young Obama a very socially savvy pot smoker to get away with it, or just a toke-stealing swindler.

It’s no secret that marijuana was flourishing in the hills of Hawaii during the ’70s, and famous strains such as “Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, Kona Gold” and others, as Maraniss writes, were readily available for consumption. The Choom Gang got their bud from some dude named Ray, whom one Choom Gang member described as a “freakin’ scary” guy who was later killed with a ball-peen hammer over a dispute with a gay lover.

The Choom Gang eventually moved on, with most members (aside from Ray) going on to hold normal careers as businessmen, lawyers and writers. Barry cleaned up too, naturally. In 1995, with his chooming days far behind him, Obama released Dreams From My Father, in which he partially owns up to his pot-smoking past. His candidness about his previous marijuana use ended up being a factor for voters in 2008, giving marijuana activists hopes for policy change. Now, though, it would seem that those hopes have long been dashed.

Since taking over, the Obama administration has raided some 170 medical marijuana facilities across nine states—a far cry from the President’s initial 2008 claim that medical marijuana was not a target for his presidency. Americans for Safe Access, a medical cannabis organization, estimates the actual number to be nearer to 200 raided facilities, the same number of raids carried out by the Bush administration across its eight years. The raids are in addition to crackdowns from the IRS, which has been steadily penalizing medical marijuana companies in the form of levying taxes based on gross income rather than net income, per the standard practice. As such, affected businesses no longer receive the tax breaks associated with removing payroll costs before taxation. To put it into perspective, this week alone in the L.A. area, the Feds have sent warning notes to 34 people and filed to shut down two dispensaries.

And it’s not only the dispensaries and grow houses being targeted; patients themselves are being hassled, albeit in more subtle ways. This past September, medical marijuana patients were stripped of their Second Amendment rights after the AFTE banned the sale of firearms to cardholders. Before that, the Department of Housing and Urban Development gave housing groups the ability to kick out tenants who happen to be licensed patients. Non-medical users have also been feeling the burn, with nearly 854,000 marijuana possession-related arrests last year—that’s nearly 50 percent of all drug-related arrests for the year.

Interestingly, much of this MJ-related kickback is occurring during a banner year for not only medical marijuana, but for the legalization camp as well. There are currently seven states with medical marijuana measures on the ballot for this November, including Pennsylvania and New York—and that’s in addition to the 17 medical marijuana states (plus D.C.) with laws already on the books. In terms of legalization, Colorado and Washington, two strong MMJ states, have measures on the ballot in hopes of doing what California couldn’t do in 2010 with Prop 19.

What’s more, the American public generally doesn’t seem to support the crackdown. According to a recent poll from Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of those asked said that the Obama administration should respect state laws regarding medical marijuana, compared to 15 percent who said cardholders and dispensaries should be prosecuted under federal law. The number of Americans in favor of marijuana legalization is also on the rise, with a Rasmussen survey from May revealing that 56 percent of those polled favored legalizing and regulating marijuana like tobacco or alcohol. That poll shows a six percent increase over a Gallup poll from last year, and a 30 percent jump up from legalization polls from the 1970s, when Obama was off gallivanting with the Choom Gang.

It’s clear that public perception regarding marijuana is changing—hell, the last three Presidents have all owned up to using drugs of some kind at some point and now there are entire industries dedicated to the plant. Our bureaucracy, however, moves a little more slowly. Obama appears to be playing it safe in an effort to not appear soft on drugs going into the November election, appealing to anti-drug voters while still maintaining a modicum of support from the people who got him elected in 2008—indeed, that’s how politics is played. Perhaps we aren’t “legalizing weed—or what—anytime soon,” as Obama said on Jimmy Fallon’s show this past April, but we’ll have to wait for the next President (or a second term) to see. Public reaction, however, cannot be denied forever, and marijuana activists, like any fiery group, are much more for their cause over electing any president.

They’ll get their weed, eventually—even if Barry isn’t willing to share. Just try and intercept that.