'That Is Not a Drug. It's a Leaf.'


California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has raised eyebrows by telling an interviewer for the British edition of GQ that marijuana "is not a drug." Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger's press secretary, says he was only kidding:

The governor was doing an interview with the host of America's Got Talent, the newest version of The Gong Show. I think it's important to keep that quote in the context of the environment where it was said.

Of course the governor understands marijuana is a drug. It's like when he goes on Leno or The Daily Show, if you took something like that out of context, it might seem shocking but it was in a silly entertainment context.

To be more precise, the context was Schwarzenegger's own past drug use. He initially said he'd never used drugs. When reminded that he'd admitted smoking pot, that in fact he's shown doing so in the 1977 documentary Pumping Iron, he said, "That is not a drug. It's a leaf." McLear is right that it was a joke, but that's sort of the point: On the subject of pot smoking, politicians like Schwarzenegger (and Bill Clinton and Al Gore and Newt Gingrich) want to have it both ways. On the one hand, it's no big deal, something you can wink at and laugh about. On the other hand, it justifies some 830,000 arrests a year. Which is it?

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders regrets that Schwarzenegger did not use this opportunity to join San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom in questioning the war on drugs.