It is the highest office in the United States of America, with many claiming it the most important and influential position in the world. We are talking of course about job of the President of the United States (POTUS), and, speaking of high, some of these most important people world leaders representing the greatest country ever known to modern civilization are known users of cannabis. Yep, POTUS potheads.
This list spans party lines and goes as far back as our first president, as you will learn in our walk through the history of our presidents cannabis as it pertains to cannabis. Let’s start with our most recent presidents and stroll backwards to see what we can learn…
Barack Obama (2009 – 2017)
FACT: When Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008, times had changed so much, particularly concerning attitudes and state laws concerning cannabis, he had no problem admitting pot use earlier in his life. Furthermore, he wasn’t confessing or apologizing about his choice, as noted in a New York Times article in 2006 where he was quoted as saying to a group of magazine editors, “When I was a kid, I inhaled. That was the point.”
FACT: Prior to his entry into politics, in his first book, “Dreams From My Father,” he talked about both marijuana and cocaine use (though he downplayed the white powder, saying “”maybe a little blow”).
You have to admit, in comparison to his predecessor (Bush) and successor (Trump), Barry does come across as more laid back, although there have been no rumors or suggestions that Obama ever enjoyed the herb during his tenure as Top Boss. One can dream though…
George W. Bush (2001 – 2009)
FACT: During private conversations (recorded without his knowledge) before his 2000 presidential campaign, George Bush told Doug Wead (yes, pronounced like “weed”), a former presidential aide of his father:
“I wouldn’t answer the marijuana question. You know why? ‘Cause I don’t want some little kid doing what I tried.”
He continued, expressing his concerns about such an admission…
“You gotta understand, I want to be president, I want to lead. Do you want your little kid to say ‘Hey daddy, President Bush tried marijuana, I think I will’?”
RUMOR: The rumor mill also regularly mentions Dubya’s propensity for alcohol and even cocaine abuse during his college years. President Bush regularly touted the fact that he was a born-again Christian and recovered alcoholic. Skirting the pot and coke issues was probably his best bet!
Bill Clinton (1992 – 2000)
Fact: In contrast to Barack Obama, Bill Clinton was cornered into admitting trying marijuana in his youth, and like a true politician, he wriggled and squirmed his way through his explanation, ending with the famed cop out of “When I was in England I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale it, and never tried it again.”
While this eye-rolling non-admission became excellent late night comedy fodder, he may have been more honest than we suspect. According to the late and great Christopher Hitchens, in his memoir Hitch-22, “He preferred, like many another marijuana enthusiast, to take his dope in the form of large handfuls of cookies and brownies.”
Come to think of it, Bill did have that kind of goofy smile and spaced-out stoner voice…
Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1981)
FACT: While there is no evidence whatsoever that Jimmy Carter used marijuana during his lifetime, either for medical or recreational purposes, President Carter deserves an honorable mention for his including the decriminalization of marijuana as one of his many campaign platforms. After being elected, Carter addressed this issue to Congress, saying “I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana.”
According to President Carter, it was immoral to imprison fellow Americans for possessing or using a natural plant. He may have never used it, by Jimmy Carter shows a truer heart and empathy for Americans than most other “tough” anti-drug presidents (think Nixon, Reagan, Bush Sr., etc.).
RUMOR: Just as a fun tidbit, rather unrelated to POTUS potheads, Chip Carter, Jimmy’s son, was supposed to have partied once on the White House rooftop with Willie Nelson.
John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963)
FACT: There is no doubt that Jack Kennedy suffered from physical ailments incurred during his service in World War II; what should not come as a surprise is he was one of the first medical marijuana patients to use it for health reasons. According to John F. Kennedy, A Biography, on July 16, 1962, Kennedy and a close friend, Mary Meyers (rumored to be his lover, but not substantiated), smoked three of six joints which Meyer brought to him. When she suggested lighting up the fourth joint, Kennedy refused, replying (with closed eyes), “Suppose the Russians did something now…”
RUMOR: During this same smoke session, it was alleged that Kennedy told Meyer that pot “isn’t like cocaine” and told her he would get her some. During this same time, Meyer was close friends with Timothy Leary (the LSD guru of the 1960s) and often would visit him before meeting up with Kennedy. However, there is no evidence that Kennedy ever experimented with LSD; if so, he did it privately, without the knowledge and outside the presence of his secret service agents.
A One Century Leap Back
This ends our exploration of modern-day POTUS potheads. Interestingly, we find more than a 100 year blank in the pages of POTUS potheads, but this is mainly due to its scarcity prior to the 20th century and its demonization through the bulk of last century, as evidenced in our piece “From Ancient to Modern Medicine: A 14,000 Year History of Cannabis“. (On a lighter note, you may enjoy seeing how the cannabis subculture of the 1920s through 1940s viewed and celebrated marijuana during those days of prohibition in our other article, “Reefer Gladness: The Cannabis Culture Circa 1927-1940 Via Music“.)
Our next three presidents were also soldiers in various US wars and actually show that Vietnam was not the first conflict where soldiers found rest and relaxation (and probably the healing of a lot of jangled nerves) with cannabis. While our information is sketchier, there is little doubt that these presidents found comfort and therapy during some good smoke sessions with their troops.
You will also find many of our early presidents were also hemp farmers, so there are allusions to growing the plant which point to possibilities of using hemp for more than rope. If true, though, there is no way they were enjoying the potency levels we all enjoy today. Ah, the pioneering years… thank you for roughing it so our lives are now easier!
Franklin Pierce (1853 – 1857)
FACT: Franklin Pierce is reported to have written letters home during his war campaign in the Mexican-American war that the only good thing about the war was being able to smoke hemp with his men.
We hear you, Frank!
Zachary Taylor (1849-1850)
RUMOR: While we have no letters to home or written proofs from journalists, the word on the grapevine (and marijuana stalk) was Zachary Taylor was a regular imbiber of the greenery with his troops during his many war campaigns (War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Seminole Wars (Act II), and the Mexican-American War).
(Perhaps Zach and Franklin Pierce hooked up once in a while between skirmishes…)
Andrew Jackson (1829 – 1837)
FACT: Always a bit of a renegade president, it should come as no surprise Andy Jackson would get loose with his men after a good hearty battle. Jackson wrote in several letters about smoking the green with the guys.
(Speaking of green, Jackson was also vehemently against a National Bank and paper money and was then ironically placed on the $20 bill!)
James Monroe (1817-1825)
FACT: According to “The Great Book of Hemp,” Monroe discovered the pleasures of hashish while serving as a diplomat in France. It is said that once he tried it, he embraced it as a lifelong habit which brought him great pleasure.
You go, Jim!
James Madison (1809 – 1817)
RUMOR: Anyone who has gotten a great vision after a cannabis session (in other words, everyone!) will appreciate James Madison, who claimed hemp gave him the insight to help create a new democratic nation. We’re pretty sure he wasn’t referring to ropes and kinky play; we further believe Madison enjoyed hemp in many forms and uses, likely even in a smokable format.
Another founding father showing his progressive stripes!
Thomas Jefferson (1801 – 1809)
FACT: In addition to authoring the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson was a leading hemp farmer and advocate of the plant. He was also a man of many intellectual talents and skills including:
It would come as no surprise to learn that he experimented with his hemp crops. He was also ambassador to France during the hashish years, so he was clearly familiar with its healing and relaxing properties.
MYTH: Jefferson never said nor wrote: “Some of my finest hours have been spent sitting on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.”
However, with or without proof of his using it, if Thomas Jefferson were alive today, we are certain he would be advocating its use both medically and recreationally.
George Washington (1789 – 1797)
FACT: Washington was also a hemp farmer, so he was familiar with the plant. While hemp and marijuana are from the same plant family, hemp lacks the THC content we all appreciate so greatly. However, in those times of enlightenment, knowledge of both plants and their properties was likely great. And someone like the first president of the United States hopefully had enough pull to get his hands on the other type if he wanted…
MYTH: In one of Washington’s letters, he refers to harvesting hemp, saying “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.” While cannabis enthusiasts point to this casual statement as proof that the Father of Our Country was a pothead, it’s more likely he was bemoaning the fact that he did not separate and preserve the seeds of the female plant for next year’s hemp crop.
The Biggest POTUS Pothead Myth
There is a greater myth under which our country has lived for over a century; we are finally seeing the smoke clear, revealing cannabis (or marijuana, pot, or whatever you wish to label it) is not only here to stay, but is a good plant bringing relief and joy to this country. Revealing the human side of our presidents to show their use of cannabis over the years is one good step in overturning the horrendous and damaging propaganda campaign under which this nation has lived too long.
The myth of the evil of cannabis is finally dying the death it deserved decades earlier! Cannabis is good, not bad. An honest president will tell you that in no uncertain terms (and in another decade we will all be wincing at our longstanding ridiculous prejudice against the good green)!