Everyone Knows Toronto's Mayor Is a Drunken Lout, but the Real Scandal Is That He Smoked Crack Once?


Office of the Mayor

Which is more troubling: that Toronto's mayor has smoked crack on at least one occasion (as he admitted today) or that he attempts to mitigate that transgression by saying he has a habit of getting so drunk that he does stuff like that without remembering it? I'd say the latter should be more worrisome to any Torontonian whose mind is not clouded by arbitrary pharmacological prejudices. Here is what Mayor Rob Ford told reporters today, after months of questions prompted by a video that seemed to show him sucking on a crack pipe:

You asked me a question back in May, and you can repeat that question. Yes, I have smoked crack cocaine. But no, do I—am I an addict? No. Have I tried it? Probably, in one of my drunken stupors, probably approximately about a year ago….

I wasn't lying—you didn't ask the correct questions. No, I'm not an addict, and no, I do not do drugs. I made mistakes in the past, and all I can do is apologize, but it is what it is….

I don't even remember. Some of the stuff that you guys have seen me—the state I've been in? It's a problem.

No kidding. The New York Times notes "several public occasions during which Mr. Ford acted boorishly and appeared to be impaired." Now he is saying—in his own defense, mind you—that he frequently stumbles around town in a stupor, so what do you expect? For all we know, smoking crack is the least of what demon rum has driven him to.

As exercises in blame shifting go, I prefer Marion Barry's complaint, upon being caught on tape in a similarly embarrassing situation, that the "bitch set me up," which had the virtue of being true. By contrast, Ford says he "probably" did what he is shown doing on video and furthermore that it was "about a year ago," but he can't really be sure, what with all the out-of-control drinking. He combines that wishy-washy confession with a Clintonian claim that he spoke the literal truth when he misled the public. At least Ford did not say that he lit the pipe but did not inhale.

Still, despite crack's fearsome reputation as a drug that inevitably enslaves its users, there is little reason to doubt Ford's assertion that he is not an crack addict. As I noted yesterday in my Forbes column, the vast majority of crack users do not become heavy consumers, and those who do typically cut back or stop on their own. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, just 3 percent of Americans who have tried this supposedly irresistible and inescapable drug have smoked it in the last month. Furthermore, research by Columbia neuropsychopharmacologist Carl Hart shows that even heavy users can moderate their behavior in response to incentives—something Ford evidently has trouble doing with respect to alcohol. If a drug is interfering with Ford's ability to do his job, that drug does not seem to be crack.