Federal prohibition of cannabis is on its last legs. Although, in reality, the illegality of weed has never stopped people from using it. Even those at the top of the American political system have been known to dabble in the very substances that their parties have gone to such lengths to outlaw.
Clearly, US drug policy is drenched in irony and hypocrisy. To prove it, here’s a list of some of the presidents who are known to have smoked cannabis.
U.S. Presidents And Cannabis Go Way Back
Despite its long-standing vilification, the cannabis plant actually plays a central role in early US history. The Declaration of Independence, for example, was first drafted on hemp paper. Many of the founding fathers were hemp farmers. As a vital cash crop, the plant was used to produce clothing, rope, sails, and other essential items. Although OG president #1, George Washington, has used weed for a different purpose.
Known to have suffered from painful dental issues, the United States’ first president may well have smoked cannabis for pain relief. This theory is supported by a letter he once wrote, in which he explains how he “began to separate the male from female plants,” but laments that he had done so “rather too late,” and therefore blew his chances of cultivating sinsemilla weed[i].
The implication, of course, is that the president intended to harvest the buds of his female cannabis plants. Therefore he probably had something other than just paper and textiles in mind.
Do U.S. Presidents Inhale When They Smoke Cannabis?
More recently, Bill Clinton became the butt of presidential stoner jokes when he claimed to have tried weed without inhaling. While on the campaign trail before his election in 1992, the future president admitted to using cannabis on live television before adding a strange caveat.
Having studied at Oxford University in the late 1960s, Clinton remarked that “when I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale, and I didn’t try it again.”
Was this a cop-out in an attempt to save face? Or does this comment simply mean that Clinton preferred edibles to smoking? Either way, other US presidents have picked up his admission, who have spoken about their own cannabis use. In 2006, for example, Barack Obama – then a Senator – revealed in a public speech that “when I was a kid, I inhaled… That was the point.”
Meanwhile, current Vice President Kamala Harris spoke about her past cannabis use during a radio interview in 2019, specifying that “I did inhale.” Declaring her support for legalisation at the federal level, Harris said that ““I think that it [cannabis] gives a lot of people joy, and we need more joy.”
While Clinton’s words have echoed through the decades, he was far from the first US president to give cannabis a go. According to Michael O’Brien’s biography of John F. Kennedy, the president spent an evening getting high in the White House with his mistress Mary Meyer in 1962. After smoking three joints, JFK is said to have joked: “suppose the Russians did something now”[ii].
Thankfully, the Soviets missed their chance to strike while Kennedy was baked. Perhaps Premier Khrushchev was getting high at the same time.