President Choom

How does Obama’s pot-smoking youth align with the federal crackdown?

A new biography by The Washington Post’s David Maraniss titled Barack Obama: The Story, out June 19, has been making waves, initially for its detailed descriptions of the president’s weed-smoking days in Hawaii.

Obama described some of it in his autobiography Dreams From My Father, but Maraniss goes into detail: Barack hung with a group of smart kids who liked to smoke weed and called themselves “the Choom gang,” choom being Hawaiian slang for smoke.

Hawaii of the early 1970s was something of a pot-smoking mecca, Maraniss notes. “It was sold and smoked right there in front of your nose; Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, Kona Gold, and other local variations of pakalolo were readily available.”

Unlike President Bill Clinton, who claimed he did not inhale, the Choom Gang would penalize tokers who exhaled too quickly for violating the gang’s policy of “T.A.” or “total absorption.”

A regular bunch of hotboxers, the gang did “roof hits” off the vehicles they smoked out of. Young Obama was known for calling “Interception!” when he interrupted the smoking circle rotation to take an extra puff.

According to excerpts: Obama’s pal Mark Bendix had a Volkswagen microbus known as “the Choomwagon.” They would often drive up Honolulu’s Mount Tantalus where they parked, “turned up their stereos playing Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult and Stevie Wonder, lit up some ’sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds’ and washed it down with ’green-bottled beer’ (the Choom Gang preferred Heineken, Becks, and St. Pauli Girl). No shouting, no violence, no fights; they even cleaned up their beer bottles.”

Plenty of folks are wondering how the president aligns the experiences of his youth with his position at the helm of an unprecedented federal crackdown on lawful California dispensaries in several states. Obama himself has said the federal government is not targeting individuals complying with state law, but that cannabis is still federally illegal. The Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Justice cannot sit idly by as a cannabis industry rapidly matures.

About 58 percent of Americans say they support legalizing the drug if it was sold at pharmacies. However, a popular majority does not equal political potency; votes and dollars do. Barack Obama: The Story illustrates the president’s cool, smart and maybe overly calculating personality development—pretty much the last guy to take a politically risky leap for legalization.

All choom, no fire, apparently.