News & Politics

Jimmy Carter Talks About His Son Smoking Weed With Willie Nelson on the White House Roof

A recent documentary sheds new light on a classic DC story.

Photograph courtesy of Merriweather Post Pavilion.

The much-shared story of Willie Nelson smoking a “fat Austin torpedo” on the roof of the White House—which he famously shared in his 1988 memoir—has finally been addressed by the guy who was President at the time, Jimmy Carter. In a new documentary, Jimmy Carter: Rock & Roll President, Carter says that it was one of his sons who shared the weed with Willie at the White House in 1977.

Apparently Nelson has been covering for the son in question for years. In the movie, which is directed by Mary Wharton, Carter talks about how Nelson “says that his companion that shared the pot with him was one of the servants at the White House.” Carter now admits “that is not exactly true. It actually was one of my sons.”

Chip Carter then confirms it was him: “…I said, ‘Let’s go upstairs.’ We just kept going up till we got to the roof, where we leaned against the flagpole at the top of the place and lit one up.” In the film, Chip also praises the views from the White House rooftop, particularly the sight of DC’s grid-like street plan: “If you know Washington, the White House is the hub of the spokes—the way it was designed. Most of the avenues run into the White House. You could sit up and could see all the traffic coming right at you. It’s a nice place up there.”

Although the movie appears to be the first time the former President has directly addressed the roof-doobie situation, Nelson himself has described the encounter with varying degrees of vagueness over the years. GQ writer Chris Heath asked the country legend if it was Chip who accompanied him on the roof in a 2015 profile, and later in the piece asked Chip Carter himself:

At first Carter seems to, very briefly, laugh.

“Well,” he says, “[Nelson] 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 [Chip] hangs up.

Three years later, Nelson divulged some more details about the joint in an interview with Patrick Doyle for the cover story of Rolling Stone‘s weed issue:

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.

Though the White House may seem like a nice spot to spark up, it is worth noting that while smoking weed at home has since become legal in DC, it remains against the law at the White House, which sits on federal land. Just something for relatives of the current President to keep in mind.

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Assistant Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied journalism and digital culture. Originally from Rockville, she lives in Logan Circle.