Schwarzenegger told the British edition of GQ magazine that he had not taken drugs, even though the former bodybuilder and Hollywood star has acknowledged using marijuana in the 1970s and was shown smoking a joint in the 1977 documentary "Pumping Iron."
"That is not a drug. It's a leaf," Schwarzenegger told GQ. "My drug was pumping iron, trust me."
Aaron McLear, Schwarzenegger's press secretary, said the governor made the comments in a lighthearted context, noting his interviewer was Piers Morgan, one of the judges on "America's Got Talent." Morgan is a former British newspaper editor.
"The governor was doing an interview with the host of 'America's Got Talent,' the newest version of the gong show," McLear said. "I think it's important to keep that quote in the context of the environment where it was said."
"Of course the governor understands marijuana is a drug. It's like when he goes on Leno or the Daily Show, if you took something like that out of context, it might seem shocking but it was in a silly entertainment context," he added.
In the interview for the magazine's December issue, Schwarzenegger refused to condemn politicians who decline to answer questions about drug use.
"What would you rather have? A politician taking stuff and not saying, but making the best decisions and improving things? Or a politician who names all the drugs he or she has taken but makes lousy decisions for the country?" Schwarzenegger was quoted as saying.
"A politician's job is to do what's best for the people and to improve the country, the economy, the environment. Why should I care if a politician takes sleeping pills every night so long as he can do his job?" he added.
In the same interview, Schwarzenegger listed former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who left office in June, as one of the greatest leaders in history, alongside former South African President Nelson Mandela, Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan and ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
Asked if he would include President George W. Bush on the list, Schwarzenegger - a Republican - said: "I would say that I was ... very fond of his father. I worked for President Bush Sr., and he was a great man."
"I think his son does some great things and there are some other things I don't agree with."