Drugs and the White House

When I used to think of the president of the United States, I never thought about drugs. Then one day I heard the phrase, “I did not inhale,” and even in my adolescent state, I laughed as I thought to myself, “Yeah, right!”

Since that moment, the presence of drugs in the Oval Office has developed to the point of President Bush neither denying nor confirming his past use of cocaine and presidential candidate Barack Obama openly admitting using marijuana and cocaine in his younger years.

In the past, I’ve always thought that because of its borderline legality and widespread use — an estimated 40 percent of Americans admit to doing it at least once — I could accept a president who had previously smoked pot. It’s been one of those things where as long as they were a good candidate and no longer took part in it, I could deal with the leader of the free world having that in his or her past. But how do I navigate my feelings toward hard drug use and presidential viability?

Some people think that a drug is a drug no matter what, while others distinguish marijuana from the pack because of its perceived harmlessness.

I do distinguish it. Cocaine is far more dangerous than marijuana. You can overdose on coke, and you can transmit life-threatening diseases by sharing the needles used to inject cocaine. When in the history of marijuana has anyone ever overdosed on it?

But I digress — the point really shouldn’t be to nitpick differences between one drug or another. The point should be in asking whether or not Obama’s past use of drugs makes him any less qualified to be president.

To be fair, I think it makes Obama more human than the candidates who keep the skeletons in their closets well hidden. Some would question the mental state of someone willing to put themselves in such an unsafe position by using cocaine. But on the same pretense, we could call into question anything from the practice of unsafe sex to not washing one’s hands after a trip to the bathroom.

When it comes down to it, everyone, including Obama, has something in his or her past that he or she is not proud of and no longer takes part in. He could have lied about it, but he told us the truth. Perhaps we should be optimistic enough to believe in the possibility that people can do bad things and then change for the better.

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