Born: September 10, 1948
“I smoked pot with the best of them and came to love it,” former Canadian first lady Margaret Trudeau writes on page one of her 1979 book Beyond Reason (Paddington Press). Born Margaret Sinclair in 1948 to a Canadian diplomat, she was the youngest first lady in the world when she married Pierre Trudeau in 1971.
“I got obsessed with the idea of freedom…with materialism and greed, with the influence of pop music and revolt.” While listening to Janis Joplin, the Beatles and the Stones, she studied Blake, Coleridge and Keats as well as Timothy Leary and Buckminster Fuller. “It was easy to get marijuana,” Trudeau wrote. “We grew it in our gardens in the summertime or bought the grass that came up cheap and plentiful from Mexico and California. I drunk it all in—the music, the drugs, the life. I jibed only at opium, scared off by Coleridge, and though some of my friends tried LSD, there was no cocaine about. I did try mescaline one day, and spent eight hours sitting up a tree wishing I were a bird."
After college, she traveled to Morocco, living in communes and “learned to inhale the mild keef smoked in long reed pipes with clay bowls.” Though she enjoyed the freedom, she couldn’t stand the unsanitary conditions and overindulgence in drugs in sex. But she tried LSD and by mistake took an overdose of belladonna given to her by a pharmacist instead of the cough medicine she asked for.
She fell for a hippie, Yves, but when he rejected her she took up with Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada. He was 50, Margaret 22. Before he would marry her, he insisted she give up grass. She undertook a six-month pot-free reformation, during which time she studied French, improved her skiing, sewed a trousseau, and converted to Catholicism. The two set a marriage date of March 4, 1971.
A few weeks before the wedding, Margaret tried to travel with friends across the border to the U.S. for a wedding. After customs officials found hashish residue in one of the girls’ lockets, they were all strip searched, with an officer telling Margaret, “Spread your cheeks, honey.” Years later, at a White House dinner, Jimmy Carter asked her, “What happened to the student activists of your generation, and the great hippy push?” Trudeau told him of her customs experience as “just one example of the hostility that we met with every day.”
Much like Prince Charles’s young bride Diana, Margaret disliked the protocol and police protection of her too-public life. She bore three sons and stayed “straight” until a 1976 trip to Mexico. “It was like coming home—magic and drugs, all my old stomping grounds,” she wrote. In Palenque, some old friends slipped her “a little plastic sack of peyote mushrooms. That night at Cancun I allowed myself a secret taste. It made me look forward to more.” She enjoyed the unstuffiness of Cuba so much that Pierre joked he thought she would ask for asylum. In Venezuela, a “liberal dose of belladonna a Caracas doctor had prescribed for stomach cramps” led to an embarrassing incident where she sang at a state dinner.
In 1976 she travelled to California to hear Krishnamurti, began taking an interest in issues rather than dresses, and studied photography. Unhappy with her life, while weaning herself off tranquilizers, she started using marijuana again. “I smoked not one but two strong joints before setting out for one of my [psychiatric] appointments. No sooner was I settled in his office than I began to talk. I told him about my dreams, my childhood, my marriage. A look of profound self-satisfaction spread across his face. ‘You see,’ he said at the end of our hour, ‘you can do it, you know, without drugs.’ I laughed. I never went to see him again.” Pierre started to greet her after work, “not to kiss me, but to sniff me” for marijuana. The couple separated. She read Carlos Castaneda, smoked hash with the Rolling Stones, and partied at New York’s Studio 54 while looking for photography or acting jobs. Although she was apart from her children, she wrote that her relationship with them and Pierre was healthier when she exercised her freedom.
Trudeau said quitting marijuana helped her mental health at a press conference for the Canadian Mental Health Association's March 2007 Bottom Line Conference. Trudeau, who was “recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” said, "I loved marijuana. I was a hippie in the '60s. I started smoking at a young age. I took to it like a duck to water. Strawberry Fields Forever and all that."
Trudeau said it is not uncommon for mental health sufferers to self-medicate with alcohol or marijuana, claiming, "Marijuana can trigger psychosis," and adding, "Every time I was hospitalized it was preceded by heavy use of marijuana." Trudeau was hospitalized three times for mental illness. Her first followed the birth of her second child, Alexandre, and her most recent one followed the deaths of her son Michel and Pierre Trudeau.
Trudeau said, "It takes maturity first to comply with the pharmaceutical. There's the feeling that it is taking away from your creativity, your spark. My doctor said 'No Margaret, it's your disease that's taking away from your spark.'" She said she has completely given up the use of marijuana, something she once thought made her feel "wonderful." "I miss it," she said of pot smoking. She is now a speaker for hire on mental health issues.
Changing the Face of Cannabis