Veteran presidential biographer David Maraniss, whose book about “Bubba” Clinton, First In His Class, is considered the finest recount of the life of young Bubba, now tackles the mysterious young life of the 44th President of the United States in Barack Obama: The Story.
A self-selected group of boys at Punahou School who loved basketball and good times called themselves the Choom Gang. Choom is a verb, meaning “to smoke marijuana.”
…As a member of the Choom Gang, Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends. The first was called “TA,” short for “total absorption.” To place this in the physical and political context of another young man who would grow up to be president, TA was the antithesis of Bill Clinton’s claim that as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford he smoked dope but never inhaled.
…Along with TA, Barry popularized the concept of “roof hits”: when they were chooming in the car all the windows had to be rolled up so no smoke blew out and went to waste; when the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling.
…When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo (Hawaiian slang for marijuana, meaning “numbing tobacco”) instead of absorbing it fully into your lungs, you were assessed a penalty and your turn was skipped the next time the joint came around. “Wasting good bud smoke was not tolerated,” explained one member of the Choom Gang, Tom Topolinski, the Chinese-looking kid with a Polish name who answered to Topo.
…[Choom Gang member] Mark Bendix’s Volkswagen bus, also known as the Choomwagon. … The other members considered Mark Bendix the glue, he was funny, creative, and uninhibited, with a penchant for Marvel Comics. He also had that VW bus and a house with a pool, a bong, and a Nerf basketball, all enticements for them to slip off midday for a few unauthorized hours of recreation…
…Barry also had a knack 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. No one seemed to mind.
…Choom Gang members often made their way to Aku Ponds at the end of Manoa Stream, where they slipped past the liliko’i vines and the KAPU (keep out) signs, waded into waist-high cool mountain water, stood near the rock where water rushed overhead, and held up a slipper (what flip-flops are called in Hawaii) to create an air pocket canopy. It was a natural high, they said, stoned or not.
He was a long-haired haole hippie who worked at the Mama …Mia Pizza Parlor not far from Punahou and lived in a dilapidated bus in an abandoned warehouse. … According to Topolinski, Ray the dealer was “freakin’ scary.” Many years later they learned that he had been killed with a ball-peen hammer by a scorned gay lover. But at the time he was useful because of his ability to “score quality weed.”
…In another section of the [senior] yearbook, students were given a block of space to express thanks and define their high school experience. … Nestled below [Obama's] photographs was one odd line of gratitude: “Thanks Tut, Gramps, Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times.” … A hippie drug-dealer made his acknowledgments; his own mother did not.
…Their favorite hangout was a place they called Pumping Stations, a lush hideaway off an unmarked, roughly paved road partway up Mount Tantalus. They parked single file on the grassy edge, 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 bottle beer” (the Choom Gang preferred Heineken, Becks, and St. Pauli Girl).
…In the Honolulu of Barry’s teenage years marijuana was flourishing up in the hills, out in the countryside, in covert greenhouses everywhere. 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 pakololo were readily available.
On November 21, 2011, President Barack Hussein Obama’s official website reported the following in an article titled “Alternatives to the War on Drugs:” Obama Drug Policy and Reforming the Criminal Justice System:
Compared to their representation among the U.S. population, African Americans are disproportionately incarcerated for drug offenses. These two groups have consistently higher proportions of inmates in state prison who are drug offenders compared to whites – about 50% higher.
Over the past two months, we have met with African American leaders across the country – in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles – to listen to what they had to say. We discussed their concerns and ideas, and we outlined the Obama Administration’s approach to drug policy, presenting our view that it is guided by three indisputable facts: Addiction is a disease that can be treated; people can recover from drug addiction; and new interventions are needed to appropriately address substance abuse and drug-related crime. Simply put: We cannot arrest our way out of our Nation’s drug problem.
Addressing drug addiction as a public health issue will help us break the cycle of drug use, crime, and incarceration. And in keeping with a balanced public health and safety approach, the Obama Administration is taking unprecedented actions to restore balance to how we address our Nation’s drug problem and its disproportionate effects on communities of color.
…According to a recent survey, African American parents now consider youth drug use as the top concern for young people, ranking higher than gun related crimes, school violence, or bullying. We look forward continuing leading the Federal government’s collaborations with the African American community to reducing disparities and ensure that we can prevent drug use before it starts and work together to break the cycle of drug use and crime.
So, the Obama Administration concluded that drug use is a serious problem among black youth?
They should know.