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That Time Willie Nelson and Chip Carter Got High on the White House Roof

Photograph by Bill Fitz-Patrick, via National Archives.

Rolling Stone‘s new “weed issue” includes a well-told story that’s always worth retelling: The night in 1977 when Willie Nelson got high on the roof of the White House. In his profile of Nelson as a stonerPatrick Doyle places the music legend’s aerial adventure in context of a recent bust in the Bahamas:

Before the arrest, he had been invited by Jimmy Carter, for whom Nelson had performed during his campaign. Nelson was photographed arriving on the back lawn wearing tennis shoes and a bandanna. “Oh, he laughed about it,” he says of Carter’s reaction to his Bahamas bust. “Why not?”

That night, after singing in the Rose Garden, Nelson went to sleep with his wife, Connie, in the Lincoln Bedroom. Then one of the president’s sons knocked on his door.

“Chip Carter took me down into the bottom of the White House, where the bowling alley is,” Nelson says. Then they went up to the roof and smoked a joint. Nelson remembers Carter explaining the surrounding view — the Washington Monument, the string of lights on Pennsylvania Avenue. “It’s really pretty nice up there,” Nelson says.

Photograph via National Archives

Nelson’s free use of Chip Carter’s name followed years of silence about who exactly accompanied him upstairs. In 2015 both he and Chip Carter fessed up to Chris Heath, whose account of a phone call with Carter is an underappreciated nice moment in journalism:

At first Carter seems to, very briefly, laugh.

“Well,” he says, “he told me not to ever tell anybody.”

I tell Carter that I believe the cat is now out of the bag.

“Okay,” he says evenly.

Then I continue, inquiring whether I can ask him some more about what happened.

“No,” he says. “No, you can’t. Thank you.”

And that is when James Earl Carter III hangs up.

It’s now legal to use pot in private residences in DC, but if for some reason he were invited back during Donald Trump‘s presidency, Nelson would face a similarly tough enforcement climate to 1977’s: The White House is in a National Park and occupies a dark green rectangle on this map of where you very definitely should not get high in DC.

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.