POLITICIAN WATCH : Smoke Screen?

Bill Clinton now says that he experimented with marijuana while a student in England more than 20 years ago. That's not the answer he gave when questioned previously as to whether he--like so many Americans of his generation--had ever used pot.

In years past, Clinton very carefully responded that he had never broken any state law, or the laws of this country. He qualified other answers by explaining that he had never experimented with drugs "in Arkansas ever since I've been an adult."

That was technically the truth, because, he says, he experimented only in England. But clearly his answers weren't the whole story.

When, during a recent TV debate in New York, Clinton was asked specifically about smoking pot during his days at Oxford, he said he experimented "a time or two." His clarification certainly won't help him with those who believe that he deserves the sobriquet "Slick Willie."

But of course Clinton was hardly unique in his experimentation with pot. Millions of Americans of his generation--not just college students, musicians and artists but Vietnam soldiers--tried marijuana in their youth. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas tried it. Sen. Albert Gore Jr. (D-Tenn.) and former Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, both onetime presidential candidates, admitted to smoking it.

Many people do things in their youth that they would not do in middle age. For the '60s generation, trying marijuana was one of those things. In the '90s, such past behavior should be irrelevant. It's no big deal.

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