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Which Presidents Smoked Weed?

The last time a cannabis teetotaler held the highest office in these United States, Michael Jordan only had two championship rings and John Wayne Bobbitt’s penis remained blissfully ignorant of the horrific year to come.

In fact, our commanders in chief have a long history of marijuana use dating back to the origins of the office. Much of the historical record is spotty, but here’s who we think toked, and who we’re pretty sure didn’t.

Probable Cannabis Users

George Washington: Many of the Founding Fathers grew hemp. Did they smoke it? We don’t know for sure, but Washington did write about separating the female cannabis plants, which would have had higher THC content, and there’s reason to think he might have used a hemp-derived topical on his toothaches.

Thomas Jefferson: Not only did TJ grow hemp, but he purportedly smuggled a rare strain of cannabis “known for potency” out of China.

James Monroe: Like Jefferson, Monroe served as ambassador to France during a time when hashish was chic. According to his biographers, he smoked openly in Paris and continued the habit after returning stateside.

Andrew Jackson: The Notorious AJ wrote of smoking marijuana with troops during the War of 1812.

Zachary Taylor: Taylor and Franklin Pierce both crossed paths with reefer while leading American forces during the Mexican-American War.

Franklin Pierce: Pierce later referred to marijuana as “about the only good thing to come out of the war.”

John F. Kennedy: The ballerest of all presidents was smoked up by his mistress, Mary Meyer, who brought him six joints to ease his back pain. In a weird coincidence, she was randomly murdered while out for a jog just a few weeks after the Warren Commission Report dropped.

Bill Clinton: The future first gentleman says he did not inhale. Christopher Hitchens claimed Bill was a brownie aficionado at Oxford.

George W. Bush: Claims he would not answer questions about whether he smoked because of the message it sends to kids. As if any kid wants to be like Dubya.

Barack Obama: Spent a good portion of his formative years in Hawaii hotboxing, and is always welcome to smoke here with us if visiting.

Probable Teetotalers

Richard Nixon: Linked marijuana to Jews, Latinos, and African-Americans, people for whom Tricky Dick, um, shared little affection. Started the War on Drugs. Did not smoke weed on the roof of the White House with Elvis, unfortunately.

Ronald Reagan: Staunchly believed cannabis use caused brain damage. Actually had brain damage.

Potlander Which Presidents Smoked Weed? The last time a cannabis teetotaler held the highest office in these United States, Michael Jordan only had two championship rings and John Wayne

Sorry, but George Washington and the Founding Fathers never actually got high

Early American presidents may have been enthusiastic growers of low-THC hemp, but there is no evidence whatsoever that any of them ever consumed it

George Washington in 1772, just before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War. Photo by Washington and Lee University

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    Across the various cannabis-related corners of the internet, it is now taken as common knowledge that for the first 100 years of U.S. history, its presidents were all occasionally tripping on weed.

    Sorry, but George Washington and the Founding Fathers never actually got high Back to video

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    “Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see,” reads a quote widely attributed to Thomas Jefferson.

    George Washington smoked it to soothe the pain of his false teeth, James Madison is said to have conceived the U.S. constitution in a haze of hemp smoke. James Monroe picked up the habit while in Paris and was reportedly puffing away on a hash pipe well into old age.

    Thomas Jefferson, who admittedly looks like a cannabis enthusiast. Photo by White House Historical Association

    Even 13th president Franklin Pierce allegedly puffed a few tokes while serving in the Mexican-American War, proclaiming it as “about the only good thing” to come out of the conflict.

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    Unfortunately, it’s all very, very untrue. Early American presidents may have been enthusiastic growers of low-THC hemp, but there is no evidence whatsoever that any of them ever consumed it.

    In fact, the whole thing is largely thanks to a wildly successful 1970s hoax.

    The Seed, an underground Chicago newspaper, ran a satirical story claiming that seven early U.S. presidents had smoked hemp. Citing a non-existent “Dr. Burke” from the equally non-existent American Historical Reference Society, the story spun convincing descriptions for each president’s encounter with the drug.

    “James Madison once remarked that had it not been for hemp, he would not have had the insights he had in the work of creating a new and democratic nation,” read one claim.

    The hoax took off after it was unwittingly repeated by Jesse Steinfeld, the then-U.S. surgeon general. Speaking before the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, Stenfeld cited “Dr. Burke” in claiming that “no less than seven U.S. presidents smoked marijuana.”

    Ever since, the alleged cannabis usage of early U.S. leaders has been an oft-repeated argument by pro-legalization activists.

    The National Constitution Centre now has a dedicated webpage to refute the notion that the likes of Washington and Madison were lighting up 18th century joints.

    Part of the confusion stems from the fact that many early U.S. presidents were indeed massive hemp enthusiasts, and indicated as much in letters and editorials. But they grew the crop as a way to make rope and paper, not as a hallucinogen.

    Second president John Adams even left behind this particularly cryptic quote from 1763: “Seems to me if grate Men dont 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 it seems like Adams is calling for Colonial America to treat its violence problem with a few more bong hits, he is in fact calling for more hemp rope by which to hang criminals.

    John Adams, who actually wanted to kill people with hemp, rather than get them high. Photo by Naval Historical Centre

    As for the quote about Thomas Jefferson smoking pot on his back veranda, that dates back only about 10 years. The non-profit that runs Monticello, Jefferson’s Virginia home, notes that the quote does not appear in any of Jefferson’s official writings, and only started appearing online in 2008.

    The widespread belief that Washington, Jefferson and Adams all smoked hemp is actually just a very successful 1970s instance of fake news