Cowen admits to smoking marijuana

Minister for Finance Brian Cowen today came under fire after admitting smoking marijuana as a student.

Critics complained that Cowen appeared to make light of his drug experience joking that, unlike Bill Clinton, he did inhale.

Mr Cowen made the admission in an interview with rock magazine 'Hot Press' just days before the general election on May 24.

The politician, hotly tipped as Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's eventual successor, revealed he smoked the drug while studying law at University College Dublin (UCD).

"Anyone who went to the UCD bar in the 70s that didn't get a whiff of marijuana would be telling you a lie," Mr Cowen said.

"There were a couple of occasions when it was passed around and unlike President Clinton, I did inhale."

His remarks were today criticised by a mental health expert, who said Mr Cowen should have been more prudent in his comments given the dangers associated with use of the drug.

"For the vulnerable and the weak and those who are easily led, the danger is that people looking at a successful man like Mr Cowen might assume cannabis is an innocent pastime," said Des Kavanagh, General Secretary of the Psychiatric Nurses Association.

"It is a gateway to other more serious drugs. He should have been more prudent."

Former US President Bill Clinton famously admitted smoking marijuana, but denied he inhaled it.

Mr Cowen's government colleague, Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea, was outlining Fianna Fáil's plans to crack down on crime today, but said he was not concerned by Mr Cowen's comments.

Joking with reporters he said: "All I can say is that in Brian's case it did no long-term damage."

But Bernie O'Donnell of Community Awareness of Drugs, a Dublin voluntary group, warned against use of the drug.

"It is a drug to be avoided," she said.

"We know it impairs learning and we would be concerned about the links between cannabis and psychosis."

Meanwhile, in the same issue of Hot Press the Green Party's leader Trevor Sargent said he was inspired by God in his political career.

"I'm driven in politics by the belief that this is what God wants me to do," he said. "I read the bible every day."

When asked to name his favourite sex symbol, he opted for Cameron Diaz.

"I know that Cameron Diaz has a very ecological outlook in many ways," he said.

"She would certainly engage me in riveting conversation."

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