U.S. Presidents Views on Pot

Stephen Andrews
18 Feb 2022

For the late 19th and early 20th century presidents, pot-smoking was not something they wanted to be associated with. If these presidents ever did it at all. It appears those who held office in the early days of America had a way more liberal stance on the plant in general. Of the presidents during the War on Drugs era, only one seems to have had a somewhat more progressive stance on cannabis. In light of President's Day in the U.S., we are looking back at what various presidents have commented on weed and what some of them did to contribute to propaganda or advance as a policy.

George Washington

The Founding Father, the first person who ever served as the president of the United States, George Washington, put down riveting details in his diaries. He "sowed hemp at muddy hole by swamp" away from the hemp he grew for fiber, he wrote. He also knew a thing or two about distinguishing male from female plants, presumably in an attempt to get plants richer in THC content. He wrote: "Began to separate the male from female plants..." and "Pulling up the (male) hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month." 

Washington may have also used hemp medicines to deal with pain from his ailing teeth. It is also known he used other substances for that matter, such as laudanum, a tincture of opium commonly used at the time against chronic pains. Laudanum was addictive and caused a high. "His painful, ill-fitting dentures made Washington's mouth bulge out; he clamped his lips to hold them in," according to the Smithsonian. "Supposedly he lost his teeth by cracking Brazil nuts between his jaws. By the time he became President, he had only one tooth left. One set of dentures was carved from hippopotamus tusk and had a space to accommodate the single tooth. This caused almost constant pain, which he tried to ease with laudanum."

Abraham Lincoln

The internet is abundant with real and fake quotes saying how Lincoln enjoyed hemp. One of the quotes with disputed veracity reads as follows: "Two of my favorite things are sitting on my front porch smoking a pipe of sweet hemp, and playing my Hohner harmonica." 

While it's not entirely clear if the 16th U.S. president really smoked, multiple sources insist it's true; he did it. And it would be hubristic to assume that Lincoln did not smoke pot. Due to the fact that he lived in an era when hemp cultivation was normal, and many influential figures mentioned marijuana just like that, without making a fuss about it - as if it were an everyday thing. 

US presidents and their stance on cannabis.

George W. Bush 

The man who served as the 43rd president of the United States has refrained from publicly answering the marijuana question. However, he was later heard saying he would not speak about it, "because I don't want some little kid going what I tried." 

Bush's presidency saw a rapid increase in nonviolent drug law offenses, often misdemeanors. Bush campaigned on the idea that states should handle medical marijuana, a view he didn't hold during his presidency. As a matter of fact, his administration went ahead with raids of multiple dispensaries and patients across several states where medical marijuana was legal. 

Barack Obama

Disappointingly, federal legalization did not happen under Obama's tenure, however, the 44th president has been pretty outspoken regarding his personal use of pot in his youth days. "I inhaled frequently. That was the point," he is noted as saying. 

The U.S. first African-American president has famously said he doesn't think pot is more dangerous than alcohol. He has said he has smoked pot as a kid, "and I view it as a bad habit and vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life."

Obama believed marijuana should be taxed the same as cigarettes and alcohol. He granted clemency to more nonviolent drug offenders than any president in history. Still, during his term in office, the DEA classified CBD oil as an illegal substance, the very medicine that helps patients with the most severe conditions such as epilepsy. 

Richard Nixon

This is the one who brought us the War on Drugs. Tricky Dick routinely spread hatred of marijuana and was disrespectful of non-white races and ethnicities. The following statement is illustrative of both: "I want a Goddamn strong statement on marijuana, I mean one that just tears the ass out of them. You know, it's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish."

Later administrations, such as those of President Ronald Reagan, built on Nixon's legacy, transforming the drug war into the modern, punitive crusade we are still recovering from today. 

Ronald Reagan

Now that he is mentioned. Regan served throughout most of the 1980s. He was the 40th president, and it's egregious to write that he simply spread negative propaganda on cannabis. The man preached stuff like, "I now have absolute proof that smoking even one marijuana cigarette is equal in brain damage to being on Bikini Island during an H-bomb blast."

Reagan's rigid stance on marijuana was complemented by his spouse, First Lady Nancy Reagan, thanks to whom the "Just Say No" advertising campaign was launched as part of the U.S. War on Drugs. The campaign sought out various ways of saying no to recreational drug use and primarily targeted children. 

Reagan passed away in 2004 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for nearly a decade. He didn't live to see cannabis medicine becoming an acceptable treatment option that supplements brain health. Even if he had the chance to try out medical cannabis, it's hard to imagine him agreeing to it. 

Nancy Reagan at a "Just Say No" Rally at The White House in 1986.
Nancy Reagan at a "Just Say No" Rally at The White House in 1986.

Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter claimed he had never smoked weed, however, his son Chip did, reportedly on the roof of the White House along with Willie Nelson. Carter is viewed as the most progressive president on cannabis in the War on Drugs era, telling Congress, "I support legislation amending Federal law to eliminate all Federal criminal penalties for the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana." 

In 1977 he said, "Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself," adding that marijuana sales should still be rigorously criminalized. 

During Carter's tenure, the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Act was established, providing select patients suffering from certain conditions with marijuana joints rolled with federal authorization.  

John F. Kennedy

These days he is at the center of wild conspiracy theories. His assassination has also sourced out all kinds of myths and fables. While we cannot confirm if the CIA was involved in JFK's death or if the Illuminati are to blame, we cannot confirm if the 35th president smoked marijuana in the White House either.

According to some written accounts, including a biography book about JFK, he might have on one occasion. Reportedly to treat back pain. The source alleges: "On the evening of July 16, 1962, according to [Washington Post executive] Jim Truitt, Kennedy and Mary Meyer smoked marijuana together. ... 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." What he allegedly said at that very instance is: "Suppose the Russians did something now." 

Even if JFK's three joints story is false, I like to think it's fun. Especially the part with the Russians.

Stephen Andrews