For some naive reason, the notion that a single President of the United States would ever smoke weed had me dumbfounded. The thought of being in charge of my own body movements while high feels like enough of a responsibility, let alone being in charge of an entire nation. Though pot may feel like an inhibitor in my 21st century existence, the green was indeed often used by POTUSs from century to century to ease the everyday pains of chronic illness, stress, and, ya know, war. Presidents - they’re just like us!
(Er, sometimes …)
Anyway, the legend of Presidents smoking weed is as extensive as the history of Presidents, itself. Kicking it off is George Washington, an apparent hemp farmer, who once documented his troubles raising his plants in a way that many have interpreted as Washington looking to breed for maximum THC content: “Began to separate the male from female plants rather too late… Pulling up the (male) hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month.” In Washington’s time, hemp was primarily grown as a “cash crop” - a crop harvested for non-personal use - and was used to make rope, netting, and linen. Alas, as TheVintageNews.com reports, the strain of hemp Washington grew was not the strain we know (and love) as the marijuana. In fact, at a THC level of 0.3%, this particular strain wouldn’t even get you high. While there’s no evidence to show that Washington didn’t smoke weed by other means, there’s certainly no evidence to say he did.
Second president John Adams appears to have left more concrete evidence that he was pro-smoke: “We shall, by and by, want a world of hemp more for our own consumption,” Adams is quoted as saying. Could Adams be the first pro-weed pres? Many still feel that Adams’ reference is about hemp’s variety of other uses, however, proposing to use the cash crop for the personal brings hemp one step closer to its present-day purpose.
Even more damning evidence is Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, listing “smoking hemp and observing as far as the eye can see” as two of his favorite pastimes. Still, there is speculation about how high Jefferson could have gotten from colonial American “hemp”, with its aforementioned low THC concentration. Womp womp. However, it is rumored that Jefferson hired Turkish smugglers to bring a specific Chinese cannabis strain known for its potency to the States. This (allegedly) proved to be such a threat to the Chinese cannabis industry that China instituted the death penalty for anyone caught smuggling the seed.
Fifth president James Monroe reportedly picked up a hashish habit while acting as ambassador to France. In Rowan Robinson’s book, The Great Book of Hemp: The Complete Guide to the Environmental, Commercial, and Medicinal Uses of the World's Most Extraordinary Plant, Robinson claims that Monroe continued smoking hash until his death at 73.
For Franklin Pierce, Zachary Taylor, and Andrew Jackson, weed was, as Pierce said, “about the only good thing to come out of the war.” While Jackson is reported to have written about smoking weed with troops during the War of 1812, Taylor and Pierce are both rumored to have done the same while leading the American front during the Mexican-American War.
Fast forward to the 1960s, and JFK is smoking weed as treatment for various physical ailments. We can count on Kennedy biographer Michael O’Brien for the tea, though: according to a Washington Post exec, Kennedy would smoke pot with mistress Mary Meyer. According to the report, “The president smoked three of the six joints Mary brought to him. At first he felt no effects. Then he closed his eyes and refused a fourth joint.”
As weed has become increasingly normalized, so has the presidential confession to smoking it. George W. Bush copped to smoking pot on the Tonight Show With Jay Leno, though prefacing his admission with “I didn’t behave that well when I was younger.” Bill Clinton came next, with claims that he “didn’t inhale” marijuana while “experimenting” with it in England. And yes, there’s Obama, often villainized for his “pothead” days spent growing up in Honolulu and his rumored smoking habit post-presidency.
Though there are no records that any of these guys smoked on the job, one can only imagine how different our country might be had the men in charge just, you know, chilled out.
Words by Alyson Zetta Williams