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New biography details Obama's pot-smoking 'interceptions'

May 25, 2012|By David Lauter
  • This photo provided by the Punahou School shows Barack "Barry" Obama, second row right, in a 1978 senior yearbook photo at the prestigious private academy in Honolulu.
This photo provided by the Punahou School shows Barack "Barry"… (AP Photo / Punahoe Schools )

WASHINGTON-- Just in case there are any voters out there who don’t already know that the incumbent president smoked marijuana as a teenager, several websites Friday revealed details from David Maraniss’ soon-to-be-released biography about the young Barry Obama and his “choom gang.”

Maraniss’ book doesn’t get officially released to the public until mid-June, but advance copies sent to reviewers have been circulating. And in the Internet era, efforts to maintain embargos on newsy details of new books have become increasingly futile.

In this case, Maraniss describes how Obama and a group of high school buddies from the exclusive Punahou School in Honolulu would hang out together to sample – extensively – the island’s copious varieties of weed. Obama, himself, described the pot smoking of his youth in his memoir of growing up, “Dreams From My Father,” but left many of the details unsaid.

Unlike Bill Clinton, who famously claimed that he had smoked, but never inhaled, Obama’s friends credited him with setting a rule of  “total absorption”: anyone who exhaled prematurely lost his next turn at the joint. And he was known, Maraniss reports, 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.”

Remember, it was Obama who, when he was asked in 2006 if he had inhaled, said, “That was the point.”

Like Obama, the other members of the choom gang – named for a Hawaiian slang term for marijuana – have gone on to successful professional careers, Maraniss noted. The one exception was the dealer who sold marijuana to the gang – he was hammered to death some years later by a jealous lover.

The marijuana passages are a few pages in a 571-page volume. No word on who leaked the excerpts that first found their way into the blogosphere. From the White House’s standpoint, it’s probably convenient that the news, such as it is, was broken on a Friday afternoon before the long Memorial Day weekend.

David.lauter@latimes.com

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