Is Obama Back on the Cannabis Train? We’re Skeptical

Published on October 31, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020

President Barack Obama, when in office, was no friend of cannabis. Sure, he allowed Washington and Colorado to go legal, but his Justice Department also unleashed a massive crackdown on California cannabis businesses, and he certainly slept on his chance to reschedule. When a hiker passed Obama on a trail in Hawaii and urged him to “legalize it,” the president politely ignored him.

On the other hand, Obama was also the first American president to openly acknowledge using cannabis. One biography even described the young Barry O. as a champion pot smoker—a reputation that inspired not only national news headlines but also a memorable sketch by Key and Peele.

Obama himself maintains that his cannabis use dropped off after transferring to Columbia University from Occidental College in Los Angeles—where, this reporter and Occidental alumnus has heard, he used to call roommates after his evening classes and tell them to “light up the long bong.”

According to a new book, however, he’s back at it.

The former president now “spends much of his time at his home just blocks from the White House playing video games, chatting on the phone with celebrity pals, smoking marijuana and popping cannabis-infused gummy bears,” Edward Klein, a former New York Times Magazine editor-in-chief, writes for the conservative website World Net Daily.

Video games and infused gummy bears? Color us skeptical.

Klein first made the claims in his new book, All Out War: The Plot to Destroy Trump, in which he quotes “a close Obama family friend” who said Obama “sees himself as sort of a hipster ex-president, a cool guy.”

Most of the allegations seem to turn on longtime criticisms of Obama as a self-absorbed “celebrity” president—or worse, on pervasive stereotypes of black men.

“He wants to go back in terms of fashion and style to his pot-smoking days as a member of the Choom Gang at the Punahou School in Hawaii,” Klein claims the friend told him. “He gets the weed from friends who visit him. I was told he keeps a small stash in his bedroom. He has rolling papers and hasn’t forgotten how to roll a joint. Sometimes he’ll smoke in his bedroom, and sometimes in the backyard. But mostly he does it when he’s traveling.”

We at Leafly wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Obama hit a joint between kitesurfing sessions with Richard Branson, but the thought of the bookish ex-president holed up in a cannabis den playing video games all day strikes us as more than a little farfetched. Nevertheless, we’ve reached out to the Office of Barack and Michelle Obama to see what folks there have to say.

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In the meantime, more unconfirmed claims made by Klein:

  • In an interview with the Todd Starnes Show, Klein reportedly said that Obama enjoys winding down by playing the video games “Styx: Shards of Darkness,” “Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon,” and “Halo War 2 Ultimate Edition.”
  • Klein claims that Valerie Jarrett, a former senior adviser to the president, said that “Barack mostly sits in his study playing video games and ordering a hip new wardrobe online, including a leather jacket and $300 Prada sunglasses.” That quote comes via Klein’s unnamed family friend. “He takes phone calls from show-business friends like Bruce Springsteen, Jay-Z and Tom Hanks, but he refuses to talk politics.”
  • “He had a blow up with Michelle when Malia was caught on video smoking what looked like a joint at a Lollapalooza concert in Chicago,” Klein claims the friend told him. “When the tape of Malia went viral, Michelle blew up at him; she said it was his fault because he set a bad example for his daughters, that it was OK to use pot.”

If any one of these claims is true, it’d be big news. Maybe it is. But most of these allegations seem to turn on longtime criticisms of Obama as a self-absorbed “celebrity” president—or worse, on pervasive stereotypes of black men as deadbeat dads and drug users.

Klein’s “exclusive” article being published on World Net Daily casts further doubt on the claims. WND is widely considered to be a far-right or alt-right outlet, and the publication spent considerable time furthering the conspiracy theory that Obama was born outside the US.

Although his early career was marked by high-profile stints as a foreign editor at Newsweek and the top editor of the NYT Mag, in recent years Klein’s work has been roundly dismissed by critics on both the left and the right for containing thinly sourced material and serious factual errors. Conservative writer John Podhoretz slammed Klein’s 2005 biography of Hillary Clinton, The Truth About Hillary, as so poorly researched and written that “thirty pages into it, I wanted to take a shower.” One reviewer at the right-wing National Review wrote that “nobody on the right, left, or center ought to stoop to this level.”

So take Klein’s Obama stories for what they’re worth. There may be a reason no legitimate publication is excerpting his new book.

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Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin
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