High School Daze: The Story of Barack Obama and His Weed-Friendly Choom Gang

Best buds forever.

President Barack Obama likes to throw shakas and bodysurf. He’s hung surf photos in the private quarters of the White House. A couple years ago while vacationing on a secluded stretch of Oahu’s north shore, the lifeguard detail contracted to keep him and his family safe had to explain that they were under strict orders not to let him bodysurf; the logic being you can’t have the most powerful man in the world going face first into the sand. Unable to whomp, I’d like to think he grabbed a book from his extensive reading list, found a good shade tree and twisted one up…old school Choom Gang style.

No matter what side of the political aisle you find yourself on today, current politics is lacking some serious aloha. With all of the ugliness out there, it’s really making me miss the smooth Hawaiian we had in office—especially one who enjoyed the pakalolo as much as Obama apparently used to.

In his memoir Dreams From My Father, he cops to his hazy high school days, but doesn’t delve into much detail. The book's official version of youth would seem to have left out some critical stoner fodder. Thankfully the biography Barack Obama: The Story by David Maraniss makes it pretty clear that not only did Barry enjoy a hit of the kind every once in awhile, he’d damn well bogart joints. That behavior starts with the infamous Choom Gang at Punahou School in Honolulu.

“As a member of the Choom Gang, Barry Obama was known for starting a few pot-smoking trends,” writes Maraniss. “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.”

Translation: Barry and the boys like to turn on Dark Side of the Moon, hold in a few monster hits, sit back and enjoy the cruise. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Maraniss’s reveals. Barry was a huge fan of hot boxing his ride.

If you had to describe Obama’s character, he might be the annoying guy always smoking everyone’s weed.

“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," writes Maraniss. "When the pot was gone, they tilted their heads back and sucked in the last bit of smoke from the ceiling."

Seriously, how awesome is that? And somehow the dude became President of the United States. As the stories go, the Choom Gang would roll “sweet-sticky Hawaiian buds” and slug “green bottle beer.” For anyone caught not fully indulging, there was a cost.

“When you were with Barry and his pals, if you exhaled precious pakalolo 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.”

If you’re getting the picture that the Choom Gang was some multi-ethnic version of That '70s Show and Dazed and Confused that might be pretty accurate. And if you had to describe Obama’s character, he might be the annoying guy always smoking everyone’s weed.

Obama will not only go down in history as the first black president, he’ll also be the first full-fledged stoner to hold the office.

“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.”

Of course they didn’t mind. Barry’s the man! There was a lot of really exceptional dope in Hawaii in the ’70s; so exactly what were they smoking? Top-shelf strains included Maui Wowie, Kauai Electric, Puna Bud, and Kona Gold. When it came to procuring the blessed herb, a white dude named Ray was their hook-up.

“According to Topolinski, Ray the dealer was ‘freakin’ scary,’ ” writes Maraniss. “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.' ”

The story continues, “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.”

Just think, Willie Nelson wouldn’t have had to sneak up to the roof of the White House to smoke that famous joint if Barry had been in power then. Whatever happens this November, Obama will not only go down in history as the first black United States President, he’ll also have been the first full-fledged stoner to hold the office.