(AFP) – Sep 25, 2008
SYDNEY (AFP) — Australia's acting prime minister admitted Friday she had smoked marijuana as a university student, but said it was no big deal.
Julia Gillard's disclosure in a radio interview followed a similar confession on television overnight by the leader of the opposition, multi-millionaire former merchant banker Malcolm Turnbull.
"At university, tried it, didn't like it," said Gillard, the deputy prime minister, who is standing in for Kevin Rudd while he attends the UN General Assembly in New York.
"I think probably many Australian adults would be able to make the same statement so I don't think it matters one way or the other."
Using the drug remains illegal in Australia.
Turnbull, who took over the leadership of the conservative Liberal Party earlier this month, said he regretted smoking dope.
"Yes, I've smoked pot," he said, drawing laughter from the live studio audience before going on to say that he now considered it to have been a mistake.
"I think now, with what we know about marijuana, I think it is a very serious drug and it is a drug that we should strongly discourage everybody, be they young or old, but obviously particularly young people, from using."
The latest admissions take to at least four the number of self-confessed marijuana smokers on the front benches of Australia's parliament.
Treasurer Wayne Swan and environment minister Peter Garrett, former frontman for the rock group Midnight Oil, have admitted smoking cannabis in their university days.
And opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott confessed to having a "half-hearted puff" -- a statement reminiscent of former US president Bill Clinton's much-mocked remark that he tried marijuana but "didn't inhale".
Far from stirring outrage among the electorate, the only immediate reaction to Turnbull's confession came from the director of the National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre.
"I'm just sending him an email now congratulating him on his refreshingly honest, straightforward and well-informed response," said Jan Copeland.
Copeland she said hoped the message would help to further lower the nation's rates of cannabis use, particularly among males in their teens and 20s.
Statistics show that 750,000 Australians out of a population of 21 million use cannabis weekly while 300,000 use it daily and that it is still the nation's most common illicit drug.
Prime minister Kevin Rudd, whose nickname "Saint Kevin" took a bit of a battering when he admitted last year to a long-ago drunken night in a New York strip club, has not commented on whether he has smoked dope.
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