Whilst many politicians present themselves as god-like, innocent figures, that are above any use of substances or wrong-doing, the reality is actually far from that. Drug use is a controversial issue that affects people from all walks of life, including politicians. While some politicians are open about their drug use, others choose to hide their habits from the public eye.
It’s becoming more and more common now for important figures to be honest about their pasts, although some still think it better to keep that part of themselves hidden, in case of it deterring voters. In addition, some politicians are simply so out-of-touch that they genuinely have never even heard of recreational drugs. In this article, we will explore the reasons why world leaders may or may not hide their use of drugs, and give some examples of those that have been found to have dabbled in the world of recreational substances. Let’s go.
Drugs & Politics
Throughout history, many famous politicians have been known to experiment with recreational drugs. They are human after all, despite many of their attempts to look like something other than that. With around 5.5% of the population having tried recreational substances, it is highly likely that many politicians will have also dabbled. In addition, when it comes to wealthy circles, there’s never an abundance of high class cocaine lying around. LBC writes:
“Drugs are so commonplace in Westminster that MPs have been known to snort cocaine from their desks.”
Drug use happens every day, and every single person is sure to know someone who has taken substances – if they haven’t themselves. Thus, it isn’t surprising or controversial to consider that world leaders have also taken them. But every politician who has taken recreational drugs has a choice. Be honest about their substance use, hope that this makes them more down to earth, but risk being seen as too hippie. Or, alternatively, keep it a secret, hope that this makes them look respectable, but risk being seen as out of touch. Let’s see which method is better.
Fear of Public Backlash
One of the main reasons why politicians may choose to hide their drug habits is the fear of public backlash. Drug use remains a stigmatised and controversial topic, and politicians who are open about their drug use may face criticism and scrutiny from the media and the public. This can damage their reputation and make it difficult for them to be taken seriously as leaders. They may be seen as unfit for office by some members of the public.
Fear of Legal Consequences
Drug use is often illegal, and politicians who are caught using drugs can face legal consequences, including fines, jail time, and the loss of their political careers. This can be particularly damaging for politicians who are in high-profile positions, as they may face greater scrutiny and harsher punishments.
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Why be Honest?
Some politicians choose to be open about their drug use in order to be transparent with the public. They believe that honesty is the best policy, and that being open about their drug use can help to build trust with their constituents. This can be particularly important for politicians who are advocating for drug policy reform, as they may feel that they have a personal responsibility to be open about their own drug use. It also brings the individual down to earth, highlighting that they understand what it is like to live a normal life – with joys and temptations.
Drug use remains a stigmatized and controversial topic, and some politicians choose to be open about their drug use in order to reduce the stigma surrounding it. They believe that being open can help to show that recreational drugs are a complex and nuanced issue that affects people from all walks of life. This is especially helpful if world leaders believe that the current drug laws are outdated and ineffective, and that a more compassionate and evidence-based approach to drug policy is needed.
Of course, for many politicians, their personal life can be published without their intent. In this case, it doesn’t matter which method they want to use, because the news is already out there. We’re going to take a look at some of the most popular nation leaders who have been found to consume recreational drugs.
Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States, has admitted to using cocaine and marijuana in his youth. In his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama wrote about his experiences experimenting with drugs as a young man, including his use of cocaine in high school and college. The New York Times writes:
“He indulged in marijuana, alcohol and sometimes cocaine as a high school student in Hawaii, according to the book. He made “some bad decisions” as a teenager involving drugs and drinking, Senator Obama, now a presidential candidate, told high school students in New Hampshire last November… Mr. Obama’s admissions are rare for a politician”
While Obama has been candid about his past drug use, he has also been a vocal advocate for drug policy reform and had worked to decriminalize marijuana during his presidency. The USA is now one of the world leaders for cannabis drug reform.
Another former U.S. President, Bill Clinton, has also been open about his past drug use. In a 1992 interview, Clinton admitted to having smoked cannabis. Time writes:
“I’ve never broken a state law… But when I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again.”
Clinton’s drug use was a source of controversy throughout his political career, with critics accusing him of hypocrisy for advocating for tough drug policies while admitting to having used drugs himself. However, his admission of marijuana use did not seem to significantly impact his political career, and he went on to serve two terms as President of the United States. The idea of taking a drag of a joint and not inhaling feels seriously low stakes. In fact, if this really is the only experience Clinton had with drugs, then it highlights his sheltered life, and also suggests he probably should not be making decisions based around drug laws due to his huge lack of experience.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also been open about his past drug use, which reportedly included cannabis and cocaine. In a 2007 interview, Johnson admitted to having used cocaine while he was a journalist in the 1990s. However, he opened up in a very defensive manner. He said that cocaine…
“achieved no pharmacological, psychotropic or any other effect on me whatsoever”. Two years earlier, appearing on the BBC’s Have I Got News for You, Johnson had tried to divert the question with a joke, saying: “I think I was once given cocaine, but I sneezed and so it did not go up my nose. In fact, I may have been doing icing sugar.”
Again, Johnson – when in power – continued the usual status-quo of the hardline drug policy. The way in which he deflected the question of consuming cocaine highlights that his aim was to always keep that part of himself hidden from the public. For a Conservative politician who aims to continue the War on Drugs agenda, there is little benefit in opening up about personal substance use. However, maybe by admitting to it even slightly, it might win him some ‘relatable’ points.
Current Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been open about his past drug use, which mainly included cannabis consumption. In 2013, he admitted to having smoked marijuana as recently as three years prior, when he was a Member of Parliament. The BBC writes:
“One of our friends lit a joint and passed it around,” he said. “I had a puff.” He said he had used marijuana five or six times in his life but had never purchased the drug.”
In 2018, Canada became one of the first nations to legalise the recreational use of cannabis. This was a great deal thanks to Justin Trudeau. It seems his honesty around the use of weed was also a political decision. Normalising the act, made it easier for him to push for its legality. If people really believe that taking a puff of a mate’s joint that’s being passed around at a dinner party is a horrific act, then it’s hard to see how there’s ever going to be consensus in drug opinion. Nonetheless, Trudeau highlighted how it was possible for a world leader to use his own honesty to then push for legal change.
There are many other world leaders who have been found to have taken drugs, and I imagine there’s a lot more than you may think. That’s not to say that Queen Elizbeth took recreational drugs, but, then again, who knows? What it really highlights is how many political figures hide their personal lives for fear of losing voters respect. It seems, on the whole, the image of a politician as a ‘perfect person’ is more popular than seeing them as an ‘actual person’. This is a shame, if it is the case. However, as time changes, and drug laws around the world shift, perhaps future world leaders will be heralded for being honest about their own drug use.
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