TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton told a college audience here yesterday that he wasn't being "slick" in saying recently that he had tried marijuana but didn't inhale.
"Here's why you should believe that I wasn't being slick. Here's what I meant to say," the Democratic front-runner told students at a Florida A&M University forum. "I tried to [inhale], and I couldn't. I TRIED to.
"I'm not being slick. I made my best effort; I just couldn't do it," he said to loud applause.
PD The governor insisted that until the moment he put the marijuana
cigarette to his lips, he had never inhaled even a regular cigarette.
"It's not easy to inhale smoke when you've never done it," he said. "I wasn't trying to exonerate myself and be cute. I tried."
Mr. Clinton appeared both good-humored and exasperated by the question over what he has said was his lone experiment with marijuana while a student at Oxford, England, more than 20 years ago.
He said his claim not to have inhaled was "a careless afterthought" made mostly in jest. But, he continued, "Nobody has a sense of humor in this country. Everything becomes a federal case.
"It's silly, but it's neither morally nor legally relevant. There is not a trust issue here. Except the press wanting to make a mountain out of a molehill."
The trust issue raised by the press was Mr. Clinton's evasiveness in answering earlier questions about his use of marijuana.
For years Mr. Clinton avoided answering the question by saying he had "never violated the laws of my country" and refusing to answer any "have you ever" questions.
But, during a New York TV debate in late March, he was asked whether he had ever violated international law. "When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn't like it and didn't inhale and never tried it again," Mr. Clinton conceded.
The candidate's explanation yesterday came in response to a pointed question from 29-year-old Jeffrey Austin, a radio announcer and graduate of the university.