It can be easy to forget—especially when they act otherwise—that our political leaders are human, and, like all humans, experiment with and engage in activities that make them feel good. While not always for recreational purposes, the following 13 presidents engaged in either the cultivation or consumption of cannabis. Okay, to be fair, we are only absolutely sure about the last three on this list. Certainty goes out the window with the others, but it’s fun to speculate based on the things they’ve said and the social climate they were immersed in.
Cannabis, A Presidential Past Time
A brief history of cannabis in the United States before you read on may explain some trends.
The first five presidents of the United States all either grew cannabis and/or consumed it
However, there wasn’t anything scandalous about this since the growth of hemp, an industrial and impotent form of cannabis, was encouraged before the colonies gained their independence. Cannabis was no big deal. Additionally, the recreational use of cannabis was not nearly as widespread as it eventually became, so people weren’t worried about it messing with their heads. They were worried about it making their clothes, rope, fishing nets, etc.
There is a huge gap between POTUSes 18 and 35, though, and that is likely due to the racist response to the influx of Mexican immigrants escaping the Mexican Revolution in the mid to late nineteenth century. These immigrants introduced recreational cannabis use to American culture as they assimilated, and given our country’s disappointing tendency to demonize people of color, marijuana got demonized right along with them.
Presidents Who Tried Pot
42’s half-hearted admission to experimenting with cannabis made it easier for 43 to sort of kind of talk about it. By the time he got in office, 44 had absolutely no qualms about admitting his = frequent use of the drug in his younger years.
George Washington, #1
Washington cultivated cannabis from boyhood at Mount Vernon, but not the recreational kind. Washington and many other colonists grew hemp given its excellent utility as an industrial crop. Hemp was a great resource for making rope, sail canvas, clothes, and fishing nets, and these items were constantly in high demand. However, rumors have it that Washington smoked cannabis to relieve his epic toothaches.
John Adams, #2
Adams was a hemphead. What makes his love of hemp a bit more intriguing, however, is an excerpt from a column he wrote in Boston newspapers about the advantages of hemp as a multipurpose crop. In a postscript, Adams wrote,
“Seems to me if grate Men don’t leeve off writing pollyticks, breaking Heads, boxing Ears, ringing Noses and kicking Breeches, we shall by and by want a world of Hemp more for our own consumshon.”
While that almost seems to suggest a recreational appreciation for cannabis, an annotated version of this postscript indicates that Adams was referring to the use of hemp to create rope for… hangings. Yikes.
Thomas Jefferson, #3
Despite the rumors that the founding fathers were all potheads, it seems far more plausible that they appreciated the industrial use of hemp, a variation of cannabis with no recreational effects. Thomas Jefferson, like the aforementioned presidents, grew hemp. There are those who believe that Jefferson did engage in the recreational use of cannabis, smuggling Chinese hemp seeds to America and giving close friends samples meant for smoking as gifts.
James Madison, #4
While it is believed that Madison said hemp inspired him to create a nation based on democratic principles, he was likely referring to hemp’s many industrial uses and not an enlightening high. Like most farmers of the 1700’s, Madison grew hemp.
James Monroe, #5
Introduced to recreational cannabis while serving as ambassador to France, Monroe allegedly openly smoked marijuana until he was 73.
Andrew Jackson, #7
A military man, it is believed that Jackson smoked cannabis with his troops.
Zachary Taylor, #12
Taylor was introduced to recreational cannabis while serving the military during the Mexican-American War.
Franklin Pierce, #14
Like Taylor, Pierce was exposed to cannabis during the Mexican-American War and allegedly wrote that smoking marijuana was “about the only good thing” to come out of the experience.
Ulysses S. Grant, #18
While it isn’t clear that Grant definitely used recreational cannabis, he did publicize his disapproval of marijuana prohibition, stating in his memoirs that when he was at West Point,
“the fact that tobacco, in every form, was prohibited, and the mere possession of the weed severely punished, made the majority of the cadets, myself included, try to acquire the habit of using it.”
John F. Kennedy, #35
Kennedy allegedly smoked cannabis in the White House with a mistress. During the experience, Kennedy realized that smoking cannabis was not like consuming cocaine and, based on how it affected him, could inhibit his ability to properly respond to a national security threat.
Bill Clinton, #42
Clinton’s famous statement about his experimentation with cannabis—“When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and didn’t like it… I didn’t inhale, and I didn’t try it again”—has been fodder for many a joke. Nevertheless, this is the first president who publically admitted to using recreational cannabis. But remember… he didn’t inhale.
George W. Bush, #43
During his presidential campaign, Bush dodged questions about his use of marijuana. However, he later explained, “I wouldn’t answer the marijuana questions. You know why? Because I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried.” He continued, “Baby boomers have got to grow up and say, yeah, I may have done drugs, but instead of admitting it, say to kids, don’t do them.”
Barack Obama, #44
Unlike the previous two presidents, Obama both admitted to cannabis use and declined to mitigate his enthusiasm for the drug in his youth. A high school student in Honolulu, Hawaii during the 70’s,
Obama was a member of the “Choom Gang,” a group of peers who smoked (choomed) and played basketball
He was apparently a pretty active member, cutting in line when a joint was passed around to take an extra hit, and even thanking “Choom Gang, and Ray for all the good times” in his yearbook entry.