Reader, would you believe you if I told you another presidential debate occurred this week -- and it wasn't a total dumpster fire? One where instead of the participants telling a white supremacist group to "stand back and stand by" and spewing a number of blatant falsehoods, viewers didn't come away calling for the next round to be, to paraphrase Twitter user, @OmeedMalek, "a fistfight in a Chili's parking lot"?
No, I'm not talking about an alternative universe, where we're not, as certified treasure, "Weird Al" Yankovic, aptly put it, "We're all doomed." I'm talking about New Zealand's election debate on Wednesday, that according to CNN, was (thankfully) "very different" than our own. One way it was different? Current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern admitted to smoking weed at one point in the past -- and received a round of applause, according to The New York Times.
While enlightening and inspiring (who wouldn't want to smoke a joint with a badass woman PM who, as Vogue U.K. called her, is an "exceptional leader?") her admission -- and the crowd's reaction -- raises a fascinating question. When, exactly, did the tide of public opinion change surrounding our political leaders partaking in a jazz cigarette or two? The answer, like most things in life, isn't exactly clear.
Almost 30 years ago, Bill Clinton tried to convince the world that he "didn't inhale" when he tried weed during his time at the University of Oxford in the U.K., responding to what Time dubbed a "surgically worded question," during his first successful bid for the White House.
"I've never broken a state law," President Clinton said. "But when I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it. I didn't inhale it, and never tried it again." While some heralded the coy admission as a sign of social progress, CNN Anchor Jonathan Mann said that Clinton's honest answer "would have ended a political career" in another era.
Yet Clinton was not the first pot-smoking POTUS (JFK allegedly smoked three marijuana cigarettes with one of his mistresses, to give one example) nor was he the last -- two of his successors, President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama, both allegedly smoked weed. Yet the way they approached the political elements of marijuana -- and sharing their experiences with the substance -- drastically differed.
During Bush's presidency, he launched what Rolling Stone called an "all-out assault on marijuana," shifting the war on drugs towards cracking down on cannabis, avoiding the topic of his personal use like the plague. According to Time, a tape of Dubyah speaking with an advisor about his past marijuana use leaked in 2005, 9 years following California becoming the first state to legalize medical marijuana, where the President allegedly said he "wouldn't answer the marijuana question," to prevent kids from saying "President Bush tried marijuana, I think I will."
Obama took a bit of a different, more upfront approach with his penchant for green. While he'd publicly spoken about his marijuana use many times, including a 2006 interview where he not-so-subtly shaded Bill Clinton, saying he "inhaled frequently ... that was the point."
Yet Obama fully elaborated on his experiences smoking weed in his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father. To quote a beautifully worded ABC News write-up on the subject:
"In his 1995 memoir 'Dreams of My Father,' Obama writes about smoking pot, almost like Dr. Seuss wrote about eating green eggs and ham. As a high school kid, Obama wrote he would smoke "in a white classmate's sparkling new van," he would smoke "in the dorm room of some brother" and he would smoke "on the beach with a couple of Hawaiian kids."
He would smoke it here and there. He would smoke it anywhere."
Nice. President Obama knows what's up. To be candid, I'm excited for the U.S. to have our own Jacinda Ardern moment. Cannabis -- it makes presidential debates actually tolerable.