Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Will stereotype perceptions of crack cocaine go to pot?

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Bill Clinton never inhaled; Jack Layton said he never exhaled. Pierre Trudeau is believed to have done it, and so did another prime minister, Kim Campbell. Jean Chr©tien said he'll spark one up when it's legal.

"You bet I did. And I enjoyed it," New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said.

George W. Bush refused to answer the question "because I don't want some little kid doing what I tried."

Stephen Harper said he was offered a joint once, but "I was too drunk."

The fact is most people born after the Second World War, and some born long before that, have tried marijuana. People like Campbell, Trudeau and Bush, in other words, were rolling joints at a time when it was a serious criminal offence, punishable by incarceration.

The prevailing consensus until the 1970s was that pot was a dangerous drug used by people with anti-social personality disorders.

Which brings us to Rob Ford, the embattled mayor of Toronto, who has become something of a cartoon character around the world. He not only appears to have a drinking problem, he's suspected of smoking crack cocaine, which he denies.

Pot smoking might be tolerated in the public eye, but cocaine is a more serious issue because it can be highly addictive and the source of much violent criminal activity -- not the kind of thing you want to be associated with as mayor.

There's no doubt it's linked to organized crime, much like marijuana still is today, but medical opinion is divided on the question of whether crack is the modern-day equivalent of Reefer Madness, the title of a 1937 film that said dope was instantly addictive, fries brains and ruins lives.

According to various online sources, some experts believe "the nature of crack addiction depends on the social context in which it is used and the psychological characteristics of users."

A report to the Parliament of Canada entitled The Myth of Drug-induced Addiction says: "It is true some people who smoke cocaine become rapidly addicted... but these are a small minority, comparable in size to the minority of users of alcohol, heroin, credit cards, computers and sex."

It added: "There was never any empirical data to support the claims of instant addiction."

Nevertheless, crack cocaine carries a serious stigma in society today, not unlike the reputation suffered by pot in the distant past.

On the other hand, it's hard to believe Ford would be able to carry out any of his duties if he was a true crackhead. And he's certainly not the first politician to be associated with hard drugs.

Washington Mayor Marion Barry was videotaped smoking crack cocaine in 1990. He was arrested on drug charges and served six months in prison before being re-elected in 1992. He was elected again in 1994.

Was he a crackhead mayor, or just a mayor who enjoyed the occasional high?

Barry was a popular and successful mayor, despite the fact he, like Ford, exhibited a lot of dodgy behaviour.

It's not known if Ford has addiction problems, but his erratic behaviour suggests that illegal drugs and alcohol probably aren't the right mix for his particular personality.

It's possible that 40 years from now, prime ministers and presidents will come out of the closet and admit to using cocaine. "Couldn't get enough of it," they might say. "It was the only thing that got me through those boring meetings on the environment and the future of health care."

President Bush, of course, will remain silent out of fear kids will do what he did.

As far as Ford is concerned, however, it's clear he's no Mr. Magoo, the cartoon character who stumbled from one near-catastrophe to the other because he could barely see, a problem he refused to acknowledge.

Like Mr. Magoo, Ford says he doesn't have a problem. But unlike the cartoon hero, who sailed through every crisis without a scratch, the unproven claims against Ford have further damaged his already impaired reputation.

Observers in the cartoon dismissed Mr. Magoo as a hapless lunatic, but there are worse things in life than being a cartoon character.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 25, 2013 A17

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