Why Should We Care If Sarah Palin Snorted Cocaine?


In addition to describing a one-night stand with basketball star Glen Rice, Joe McGinniss reports in his new, overtly hostile biography of Sarah Palin that before she was elected governor of Alaska she snorted cocaine off an oil drum while snowmobiling with friends. Well, who hasn't done that? The cocaine snorting, I mean, not necessarily off an oil drum and not necessarily during a snowmobile excursion.

If we can believe the government's survey data (which are based on self-reports and therefore probably understate the prevalence of drug use), about 72 percent of 45-to-49-year-olds (Palin's age group—and mine) have not tried cocaine, compared to 44 percent who have not tried marijuana. So snorting cocaine would mark Palin as a bit more adventurous than the pot smoking she has already admitted (and without the excuse that Alaska had decriminalized private possession and use of the drug). But as the Drug Policy Alliance's Tony Newman observes at The Huffington Post, the scandal of politicians who used to smoke pot or snort cocaine is not the drug use; it's the hypocrisy of turning around and supporting the war on drugs, which means arresting and punishing people for doing what the politicians themselves did with impunity. For example, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who candidly admitted not only smoking marijuana but enjoying it, nevertheless has presided over an unprecedented crackdown on pot smokers in his city. So far he has not turned himself in.

Palin's marijuana record is mixed at best. "I can't claim a Bill Clinton and say that I never inhaled," she said while running for governor in 2006. But two years later, her administration asked the Alaska Supreme Court to reverse its 1975 ruling that private pot consumption is protected by the state constitution. Last year on the Fox Business Network, Palin said she opposes marijuana legalization because it would "encourage especially our young people to think that it was OK to just go ahead and use it" but added that methamphetamine is a bigger threat. "If somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody else any harm," she said, "then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at." Of course, that is more or less the policy she sought to overturn as governor.

I'm not aware of any similar remarks that Palin has made about private cocaine use. In any event, I am sure she continues to support laws against producing or selling cocaine as well as marijuana, and I do not buy the conventional distinction between drug suppliers and drug consumers, which depicts the former as predators and the latter as their victims. So unless Palin is prepared to say that her own drug use was a serious crime that she deeply regrets (as opposed to a youthful lark), it is morally incoherent for her to argue that the people who merely helped her commit that offense by supplying the drugs deserve to go to prison.

I pondered "Palin's Pot Problem" in a 2008 column. In the October issue of Reason, I detail how another former marijuana (and cocaine) consumer, Barack Obama, has disappointed supporters who hoped he would de-escalate the war on drugs.