LA City Council members talk about their marijuana use

Medical marijuana advocate Ali Rashi gives his speech at a Los Angeles City Council meeting to debate changes to the access and distribution of the drug, in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 2009.
Medical marijuana advocate Ali Rashi gives his speech at a Los Angeles City Council meeting to debate changes to the access and distribution of the drug, in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 2009. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The Los Angeles City Council Tuesday is expected to approve a new ordinance that would shut down most medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. It would place a cap of 70, with up to about 140 pot shops grandfathered in. KPCC surveyed councilmembers about whether they’d ever smoked pot – medical or otherwise.

It was 1968, and Councilman Tom LaBonge was a high school kid sweet on a girl. She offered him some pot.

“I was 15. It was after school. I was visiting a girl. And ya know, that’s what you did then," said LaBonge.

He said he only did that again a couple more times.

In response to the same query, Councilmember Herb Wesson was coy.

“Let me say this. I know what weed is. I went to college in 1969. And that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”

Councilman Paul Koretz sounded a similar tone.

“I won’t comment on what things were done in high school and college. But I would say at a minimum it’s been many, many years," he said.

Councilmen Tony Cardenas and Jose Huizar wouldn't even answer the question.

Many politicians still worry that an affirmative response would hurt their careers, even though the president of the United States has acknowledged he smoked pot as a young man.

Councilman Bill Rosendahl seems to have no such worries. Rosendahl, who said his partner used cannabis for medical reasons before he died of AIDS, readily admitted he’d smoked pot too.

“Yeah, I have. Sure. So has practically everybody."

Asked if he still smoked, Rosendahl clammed up. “That’s a private matter."

Councilwoman Jan Perry said she'd never smoked anything because she has allergies. But her younger sister had ingested marijuana pills before she passed away at age 35.

“It did help her keep her appetite up and mitigated some of her symptoms. So I think it would be a lot easier if we just legalized it.”

Councilwoman Janice Hahn – the daughter of the late longtime L.A. County Supervisor Kenny Hahn – never dared take a hit of pot.

“My father said ‘don’t do anything that you don’t want to see on the front page of the L.A. Times tomorrow.’ So I grew up afraid that I would embarrass my father.”

Like many council members, Richard Alarcon said marijuana was hard to avoid.

“Well, ya know I grew up during the hippie era and I’m not going to say I didn’t. I did. And interestingly, I don’t think I ever purchased. If somebody was smoking at a party or something, we would have done it."

Back in the day, they called that freeloading.

“Yes, I was very much a freeloader."

Councilmen Dennis Zine and Bernard Parks – both ex-police officers – said they never smoked pot.

"When I joined the LAPD, if you have smoked marijuana or injected any other drug, you would be disqualified," said Zine, who joined the department in 1968. The rules have since been relaxed.

Councilman Greig Smith is a reserve LAPD cop, and self-described child of the '60s. But he said he never used any drugs.

"This is not something I ever wanted to participate in for my personal body," said Smith.

We didn’t get responses from Councilmen Ed Reyes and Paul Krekorian.

The L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti stiffened when asked.

“I have,” he curtly said.

Does he smoke now?

"No I do not.”

Councilman LaBonge recalled a party he attended as a teenager.

"I was the best dancer at the party and one of the girls asked me if I smoke pot, and I felt bad because she thought I danced cool because I smoked pot, and I said no, I don’t smoke pot," he said.

LaBonge said, "I never wanted to smoke pot again.”

Except for that one time, he said, when he was in his twenties and another girl offered it to him.

Now, he says, he prefers the high of hiking Griffith Park.

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