Political Animal


June 11, 2012 4:25 PM Steve Jobs, LSD, and Unaccountable Elites

By Ryan Cooper

Matt Yglesias noted earlier that not only did Steve Jobs admit to using LSD, he actually was quite effusive about it even in his interviews with the Pentagon for a security clearance, saying it was “a positive life-changing experience.”

This isn’t a novel observation, but regardless of what you think of drugs generally or LSD specifically it should be very disturbing that wealthy, high-status people can get away with this sort of thing scot-free. There are lots of superficially funny stories about a young Obama smoking pot with his friends, while in New York City more than fifty thousand people were arrested in 2011 for marijuana possession alone. (Governor Cuomo, to his credit, is seeking to change that.)

When this sort of unpunished lawbreaking is common among the ruling class, it’s indicative of a loss of accountability, and people shouldn’t take it lying down. Someone should be asking Obama if he’d been better off arrested, or if the country would have been better off if Steve Jobs had been arrested or jailed for his LSD use.

Ryan Cooper is a National Correspondent at The Week, and a former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @ryanlcooper


  • JustMe on June 11, 2012 5:00 PM:

    Quite honestly, if past drug use were a bar to working with the military and getting a security clearance, the entire military-industrial complex would face a shortage of American engineers and scientists that they would not be able to recover from.

    And this is well known! I really haven't got the slightest idea who the constituency for maintaining the drug war is. I assume that if it's not from the ruling class that it's from the grass roots, on some level.

  • DOC on June 11, 2012 5:09 PM:


  • Peter C on June 11, 2012 5:19 PM:

    I was born in 1963, and the public schools I attended did an excellent job at scaring kids about drug use in general and LSD in particular. It seems to me that LSD is making a come-back; I hope not. You only get one brain.

    I'm all for rethinking the 'war on drugs', but I'd hate to see more LSD use in this country. Steve Jobs was a clever guy, but no one needs to try to recreate his life to achieve his success. Even successful people have wacky ideas once and a while.

  • Cybrguy on June 11, 2012 5:20 PM:

    Well, I think we know where Ryan stands on this issue... ;)

  • DJ on June 11, 2012 5:21 PM:

    I hardly think Obama was a member of the "ruling class" in high school or college. If you want to accuse him of hypocrisy for his current enforcement of the drug laws, using the metaphor of the ruling class is a sloppy way to go about it.

  • Mimikatz on June 11, 2012 5:24 PM:

    They really did a good job of scaring you, Peter. LSD could be very mind-opening. Much less dangerous than meth and the drugs that are so prevalent today, the uppers and downers.

    Support for the drug wars comes from the prison-industrial complex, and from people whom think that incarcerating large numbers of young men of color solves some social and/or economic problem.

  • fostert on June 11, 2012 5:30 PM:

    Umm, statute of limitations? Steve Jobs can no longer be punished for past drug use. Had he admitted to it at the time, he would be in prison. But he didn't and nobody caught him when he could still be prosecuted.

    As for LSD, it's surely not for everyone, but still safer than alcohol. Hell, you can find similar compounds in organic rye bread. And those are probably still safer than the pesticides used for the non-organic rye bread. Yeah, LSD is a powerful drug. Nobody is contesting that. But it won't kill you. Yes there was one reported death, but the guy took about 100,000 times the normal dosage at once. Try drinking 10,000 beers at once and see if you live.

  • dre42 on June 11, 2012 5:32 PM:

    Was this post meant as snark? Because I'm not following its logic.

  • Crissa on June 11, 2012 5:59 PM:

    The guy who died of the od died from an embolism, not lsd specificaly, anyhow. That much of most any crystalline dust in your vein would kill you. Don't even know how or why he did it.

    But it would be a good question, "Mr Obama, what good would it have done to arrest you for drug use? Why should it remain illegal and unregulated?"

  • Mitch on June 11, 2012 6:00 PM:


    Obama went to a pretty classy Prep School, IIRC. That's enough to qualify him these days. I think Ryan's "ruling class" line is kinda snark. What he should have said is "Moneyed Class."

    Even in my home town in Appalachia you can see a STRONG difference between how normal people are punished as opposed to "wealthy" people. Wealth, of course, will vary according to the region one speaks of. I think of numerous High School classmates who have been arrested for small drug offenses and had their lives ruined. Compare that to a local dentist who was discovered to be the head of a localized drug ring (selling pills): he got 30 days of probation.

    If you have cash the legal system treats you differently. It is difficult to argue against that, since there are countless examples. I think that's the point of this post.

  • SecularAnimist on June 11, 2012 6:05 PM:

    Ryan Cooper wrote: "it should be very disturbing that wealthy, high-status people can get away with this sort of thing scot-free"

    On the contrary. It is very disturbing that anyone of any status would NOT "get away with" taking LSD or cannabis "scot-free".

    I suggest you read the recent research from Johns Hopkins on the very positive long-term effects of psilocybin use.

  • TulsaTime on June 11, 2012 6:15 PM:

    Oh PLEASE Ryan !!!! If you are going to make even a dull point about double standards in enforcement, can you at least be current? The entire financial situation screams double standard, and you want to piddle with controlled substance from the 70's or 80's.

  • Barbara on June 11, 2012 6:17 PM:

    Not a big fan of the drug war by any means, but your point needs some fine tuning. Obama wasn't an elite (nor was Jobs) at the time they were doing drugs. What allowed them to become elite was that they weren't actually caught and punished in a way that damages one's record on a permanent basis. They share this trait with many non-elites (my brother, for instance). In addition, many people who are caught with marijuana at least actually aren't prosecuted.

    So one of the things that is most maddening about the drug war is both its ineffectiveness (lots of people still buying and selling and using drugs) and enforcement patterns that are either random (your car got stopped by the wrong cop) or not so random (racial profiling in the NYC fashion).

    All people in Obama's position should ask themselves to imagine an alternative world, one in which they were the unlucky ones to get caught -- even if they don't want to legalize all drug transactions, it's worth it to decriminalize non-violent use and possession below certain quantities.

  • Earl Rose on June 11, 2012 6:43 PM:

    I thought this was a joke. I guess not. Every day there are millions of high, medium and low class folks smoking weed or using the pipe for something and getting away with it. I don't think it has anything to do with class. Yes. People get arrested. Most are dealers. Not users. The law is, of course, an ass. But it is a tough problem. Too many sides. Too many rights here and there. Blah blah blah. Some people get caught driving drunk and some do the mandatory time for it. Even more dangerous. Are you sure you weren't kidding? You really think that Steve Jobs should go to jail?

  • Jimo on June 11, 2012 9:36 PM:

    My fav from the current security clearance process is "have you introduced, removed, or used hardware, software, or media in connection with any information technology system without authorization, when specifically prohibited by rules, procedures, guidelines, or regulations or attempted any of the above?"

    I think this is trying to ask (among other things) if you've ever violated someone's copyright. My immediate thought is: can anyone who has done much more than Google-search on the internet truly swear that they never (ever!) has done this, even if inadvertently? E.g., doesn't Pinterest (today's 'it' thing) not violate copyright laws? I don't know (I bet you don't know either. I suspect the courts are a bit confused too.)

    I'm reminded of a recent story about Congressional webpages with all manner of copyright violation material on them. Is someone in DC threatening to revoke a security clearance for these fellows? (Uhhh....nope.)

    And, talking about elites, what sort of power does this industry have to get this question inserted into a security clearance process right after "list all the times you have been arrested" and before "have you ever conspired to the violent overthrow of the government"?

    So while some government security guru wastes time contemplating whether a copyright violation might qualify to deny a security clearance to some person, they aren't actually out there working to ensure that the nation's actually valid secrets aren't leaving by the backdoor by the truck full.

  • Area Man on June 12, 2012 12:02 AM:

    The notion that only the "ruling class" gets a pass on casual drug use isn't right. The upper-middle class, especially those of us who are white, gets a pass on it too. It's just taken as a given that if you have a decent job, a college degree, and a privileged background with parents who were well-off themselves, then whatever drug use you engaged in was a youthful indiscretion and all in good fun. And it makes no sense to have put you in prison, because you're not the sort of bad person that the drug laws were meant to stop.

    Which is not to say that middle class white people never get serious prison time for drug charges, but unless you're poor and/or black, you have to get caught with serious weight. Otherwise, you get a nice lawyer who fixes you up with PTI.

  • jollyroger on June 12, 2012 2:51 AM:

    Of not entirely tangential interest, why, even where a legislative decision has removed drug possession from criminal sanction, are police permitted to improvise a method to undermine that law, even in the teeth of explicit orders to the contrary?

  • jhm on June 12, 2012 7:02 AM:

    What's the weather like on your planet, Earl Rose?

    If I've posted this here before, apologies, but it really is worth watching:


  • Snarki, child of Loki on June 12, 2012 7:39 AM:

    As fostert said, "statute of limitations" covers the statements by Jobs and Obama.

    In fact, even if you stood up on TV and said "I smoked dope a couple of weeks ago", prosecution is incredibly unlikely. Because the evidence is gone, and your statement wouldn't be enough to support a prosecution. Even a drug test wouldn't do it "hey, I was joking, and got a whiff of second-hand smoke!"

    If there's a double standard on drug use, it's a double standard on who gets targeted for stings and raids and who doesn't. But someone that "gets away with it" is almost certainly in the clear once the drug debris is cleaned up.

    Vast numbers of people get away with it, the unlucky ones have their lives ruined.

  • Fritz Strand on June 12, 2012 9:40 AM:

    Whenever I read one of these discussions about legalization of drugs I recall William Bennett appearing on the PBS news hour with a number of college presidents. He kept complaining about illegal drug us on campus and they kept on saying their major concern was the use of alcohol. It became clear with the second or third volley Bennett's concern was drugs not used by this age and class.

  • RalfW on June 12, 2012 9:48 AM:

    What a ridiculous approach. Perhaps Obama should instead be asked why Steve Jobs gets to talk about LSD and have no consequences, but the war on (black people and poor people in general) who use drugs rages on.

    Steve Jobs used drugs with a happy outcome. How nice. Millions of people use drugs and alcohol and have unhappy outcomes + many end up in jail. How about we talk about the failure of current drug policies, the lack of treatment, and the preference for hard time for petty users.

    I'm not a full-on legalization person, but I can see clearly that a) throwing Jobs in jail would have been stupid and b) throwing a young Obama in jail would have been stupid. Yet we toss away 1,000s of potential Jobs and Obamas in the prison-industrial complex.

    You wanna get me as wound up about government waste as a tea partier? Ask me what I think of the drug war, our corrupt prison system (particularly the for-profit prisons, but even the drive to incarcerate more people into tax-consuming public jails).

    It's a policy disaster that no one is wiling to take on. And your screed, Ryan, is an example of why.