'The Choom Gang': 9 juiciest details from Barack Obama's days as a pothead
Excerpts from an upcoming biography of the president make some interesting allegations about his innovative toking techniques, shady drug dealer, and more
The "audacity of dope"? In his memoir Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama admits having smoked marijuana during high school, but newly released excerpts from David Maraniss' upcoming biography Barack Obama: The Story paint a picture of a truly committed pothead.The "giggle-worthy" details — many attributed to Obama's high school buddies collectively known as "the Choom Gang," after the slang term for smoking marijuana — are "right out of a buddy stoner flick," says Adam Sorensen at TIME. Here, the most scandalous allegations:
1. The Choom GangWhile in high school at the Punahou School in Honolulu, Obama began associating with a group of boys who "loved basketball and good times," says Maraniss. The group — "decent students and athletes who went on to become successful and productive lawyers, writers, and businessmen" — dubbed itself the Choom Gang. A favorite hangout was a lush hideaway called Pumping Stations, where they parked their cars, turned up Blue Oyster Cult on their stereos, "lit up some 'sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds,' and washed it down with 'green bottle beer.'" Once stoned, Maraniss alleges, the gang was often seen slipping past the "keep out" signs at the gorgeous Manoa Stream and standing under a rock where water rushed overhead.
2. Bud was everywhereIt's worth noting that "Hawaii of the early 1970s was something of a pot-smoking Mecca," says Jonathan Karl at ABC News. "It was sold and smoked right there in front of your nose," writes Maraniss. Among the choice local strains: Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, and Kona Gold.
3. Smoke and study All the smoking didn't affect the president's studies. According to Maraniss, he told the Choom Gang that the key to performing well on tests after lighting up was to put the textbook under your pillow the night before an exam. "No way, dude!" says Karl.
4. His trend-setting techniquesObama was apparently known for starting pot-smoking trends within the group. He coined the term "total absorption," or TA. Basically, anyone who exhaled smoke prematurely would be assessed a penalty, and skipped the next time the joint was passed around. His other innovation was the "roof hit," in which the Choom Gang would roll up the windows of a car and smoke inside. Once all the weed was gone, they would tilt their heads back and suck in the remaining smoke from the car ceiling.
5. Interception"Barry had a knack for interceptions," Maraniss alleges. When a joint was being passed around, he would routinely barge in, shout "Intercepted!" and take an out-of-turn hit. If so, Obama was a "a bit of a drag," says Jon Swaine at the U.K.'s Telegraph.
6. The ChoomwagonThe Choom Gang's preferred mode of transportation was a Volkswagen bus affectionately known as the "Choomwagon." According to one anecdote, the Choomwagon and a Toyota in which Obama was riding raced to the top of Mount Tantalus, and the Toyota rolled off the road. The Choomwagon's passengers found the future president staggering on the road and "laughing so hard he could barely stand up."
7. The pizza-delivery-man hippie drug dealerEvery pot-smoking gang needs a supplier, and for the Choom Gang, that was Ray the Dealer. Ray was a long-haired hippie who worked at a pizza parlor and lived in a broken-down bus in an abandoned warehouse. In Maraniss' book, one of Obama's friends describes Ray as "freaking scary," yet able to "score quality weed." (Ray was eventually killed with a ball-peen hammer by a scorned gay lover.) In his senior yearbook, Obama expressed his gratitude: "Thanks Tut, Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times."
8. Debaucherous dorm anticsWhile Obama was attending Occidental College in Los Angeles, a freshman drank too much and threw up all over a couch in the future president's dorm hall. "In the manner of pallbearers hoisting a coffin," Obama and his dormmates carried the couch outside — drunk freshman asleep on it — to dry. According to Maraniss, Obama's dorm also sponsored what were called the Annex Olympics; events included wrestling in underwear, lighting farts on fire, and smoking pot from a three-foot crimson bong.
9. The potential political falloutObama has since disavowed this kind of behavior, says Sorensen, so it's not likely to factor politically. And voters already knew about his drug use when they elected him in 2008, says Swaine. Sure, on their own, these stories are "actually kind of funny, even humanizing," says Andrew Kirell at Mediaite. But they become less humorous when you realize they're about the President, who routinely dismisses serious discussion of drug policy. Shouldn't he "offer every American the right to 'choom'… instead of continuing to lock up marijuana users for hitting three-foot bongs like he did?"