By Dave McKinney, Chicago Sun-Times
September 17, 2002
SPRINGFIELD -- When it comes to marijuana, gubernatorial hopeful Rod Blagojevich seems to follow the party line of former President Bill Clinton with a slight variation -- he doesn't remember inhaling.
Clinton said he tried pot, but didn't inhale; the congressman told reporters Monday he had a "vivid" recollection of smoking marijuana twice while in his late teens or early 20s, yet couldn't remember if he breathed the smoke into his lungs either time.
Blagojevich was put on the spot one month and a day after House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) indicated that Blagojevich had "indiscretions" in his past but wouldn't identify any of them.
"Did I try marijuana when I was young? The answer is yes," Blagojevich said in a careful response that took 10 seconds to craft following a reporter's question. "Did I use any other kind of illegal drug? The answer is no."
Pressed on whether he inhaled either of those times, he continued: "I don't know if I did or not. I never liked the smell of it, but it was a smell ... all of our generation is very familiar with, and I'm sure I'm not the only one in this room who can recognize that smell."
Told he would have felt a stinging sensation in his lungs had he inhaled, Blagojevich then said, "I probably didn't. You're using a Clinton line on me here. I just don't know. I did it twice. And I was so inept at it, I don't know whether I did or didn't."
Despite his admission, Blagojevich isn't on the cutting edge of Illinois politics on this particular issue. In 1998, before being elected lieutenant governor, Republican Corinne Wood told the Sun-Times she smoked pot -- and inhaled.
And before that, in the 1996 U.S. Senate primary, Republican Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra acknowledged he tried marijuana, prompting similar admissions from his GOP rival, former state Rep. Al Salvi (R-Wauconda), and from former state Treasurer Patrick Quinn, who lost the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination that year and now is Blagojevich's running mate.
Blagojevich, 45, said he was "college-aged" when he experimented with marijuana and that he opposes any effort to legalize the drug.
While few observers believe disclosure of past marijuana use will swing many voters of his generation, who themselves did the same thing on college campuses, Blagojevich and his Republican opponent, Attorney General Jim Ryan, differ on the marijuana use question.
"Jim Ryan has never taken drugs. No experimentation, no use, zero," Ryan spokesman Dan Curry said. "He never had an inclination to break the law. I can't explain it any other way. He had no desire to do drugs."
Blagojevich said he is still trying to figure out exactly what Madigan was talking about last month with his line about "indiscretions," a barb the state Democratic Party chairman threw at Blagojevich after he questioned the speaker's "arrogance" in awarding a controversial state grant to a friend's equestrian project.
"I feel good about the life I've lived, a very honest life, work hard, jog, you know, try to eat the right kinds of foods, don't do anything in excess," Blagojevich said at a press conference to announce the endorsement of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.