Politics and Pot: 11 US Presidents Who Hailed To The Leaf

Gather ‘round, children, and let your old pot-smoking uncle tell you a tale of the bad old days, when you had to hide your precious cannabis flower in your sock drawer, or the space between your mattress and your box spring, or inside a fake soda can in the fridge. Because weed was illegal everywhere – from the federal government on down, no governmental body approved of the sale, use or even cultivation of cannabis. Not like today, when every city on the west coast has a dispensary in every neighborhood. Those were indeed the bad old days.

And admittedly, in states with marijuana prohibitions, those bad old days are still around. And for too many (mostly Black, mostly male, mostly young) people, those days are marked on the walls of a jail cell, since there are still plenty of people (again, mostly Black and poor) serving prison sentences in one state for something that’s perfectly legal to grow, own, buy and sell in another. This has to change, and it has to change quickly. 

Because pot is pretty much de rigueur everywhere, and it’s not nearly the taboo that it was even ten years ago. Want proof? Currently the question we ask our politicians is not have you smoked pot? but how are we going to handle ongoing legalization efforts? Whereas just 15 or 20 years ago, the conversation was still about the propriety of having used marijuana, now it’s actually about the issues at hand. America is, by and large, becoming more realistic about weed use. 

Even Kamala Harris, whose record as a prosecutor was anything but forgiving to cannabis users, has no problem with admitting her past marijuana use (and you’ve got to wonder what insulated her from prosecution for that possession and use). But even if Harris hadn’t dropped out of the race and kept going until November, she wouldn’t be the first president who used pot. Here’s a quick list to keep in mind the next time you think about the dude who’s still serving time for having an eighth of Durban Poison in his pocket.

Washington. Yeah, that’s right, the guy from the money. George Washington grew hemp, which wasn’t a big deal at the time, since just about everyone grew hemp, because hemp is amazing and there’s literally no good reason there ever should have been a prohibition on growing it. Anyway: He also used it as toothache medicine. Washington famously had terrible teeth, and eventually had to have them replaced with teeth that were part hippopotamus ivory and part literal human teeth pulled from slaves. His diaries indicate that he planted separate hemp specifically for higher THC content, setting them aside in a “muddy hole” by a “swamp” at Mount Vernon.

Obama. We all pretty much knew Obama was cool with weed from the get-go; in 2006, he told an interviewer that he’d smoked pot as a kid, and details his relationship to it in his books. His administration was, at the very least, cannabis-friendly – he instructed the Justice Department to lay off of pot offenders and dealers. Recognition of pot as a generally harmless product by the Executive branch was a massive step forward for the legalization movement. Obama’s record on crime and the drug war definitely has some missteps, but there’s no question he helped make a substantial dent in the public’s negative perception of pot. Oh, and he has a strain named after him.

Bush II. George The Younger was roundly known as a raging party animal before he became a sober teetotaler in 1986, shortly after meeting his wife. The Decider’s drug of choice wasn’t simple, safe, easygoing weed, though – it was cocaine. Say what you will about the guy who rubber-stamped the Iraq War, but he likely felt like his only option in the 2000 campaign was to admit, accept and downplay his past drug use, using it to sell himself as a crooked man gone straight to a Republican base still clutching its pearls from the Clinton impeachment. So all in all: It’s great that Bush admitted his past drug use, but he was no friend to cannabis users or patients. 

Clinton. Dude said he “didn’t inhale.” Seriously. He said he smoked pot but he “didn’t inhale.” Which basically means he, what – just sort of held a joint in his mouth? Maybe he ate some pot brownies? In retrospect, it’s a dumb thing to say – but weed culture was still very underground when Clinton was elected in 1992. At the time, though, people… mostly bought it? At the very least, people perceived his words as a winking acceptance of casual pot use (at least by white people).

JFK. OK, so: JFK was apparently on a LOT of drugs, like, ALL the time. He suffered from chronic back pain, having had several spinal operations throughout his life – and one of the methods he used to alleviate that pain was cannabis. One night he allegedly smoked three joints with some White House staffers, but refused a fourth, saying “What if the Russians did something right now?” But pot wasn’t the only drug he used – his doctors also prescribed him codeine, Demerol, methadone, Ritalin, sleeping pills and anxiety medication. No wonder the dude wanted to go to the moon. He’d already been there and wanted to share the experience. 

Madison. OK, look. When James Madison said that hemp inspired him to write the constitution, there’s a good chance he was just making a obtuse reference to hemp as a cash crop in the new nation. But some choose to believe that he actually took inspiration from smoking hemp, and they probably choose to believe that because it’s just stupid wicked awesome. Imagine the Sage of Montpelier just doing a massive bong rip from a bong made of, like, horse leather and brass, then saying HOLY CRAP WE NEED A LINE IN THERE ABOUT DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY, then scarfing a bunch of Colonial-era Cheetos and watching Ye Olde Nette Flixe. 

Art by SharpWriter.

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