Crisis Communications: A Tale of Marijuana and Two U.S. Presidents


Two United States of America Presidents have admitted to using marijuana in the past, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. And yet, one is the brunt of continuous jokes and one is not. In fact, many people today have forgotten that President Obama admitted to drug use, even as marijuana legalization is occurring across the U.S.

How is that possible? The answer lies in HOW they admitted to it. I’ve written before about how important it is, in crisis communications, to be upfront and to be the one that tells the story. President Clinton admitted to using marijuana, but then minimized his admission by saying “[I] didn’t inhale.” Twelve years later, people still use the line “I didn’t inhale” as a joke.

President Obama, on the other hand, made no such caveats to his admission. And, when asked if he has used marijuana he gave an honest and clever answer, “I inhaled frequently, as a kid. That was the point.” Since then, very little has been said about President Obama’s marijuana use. The reason? He owned it, he told the story, and he answered honestly without any caveats.

When working on a crisis communications plan or responding to a crisis, be ready to be clear, be upfront, and don’t caveat your answers.  This one technique will greatly reduce the length of your crisis.