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What You Didn’t Know About Presidential Cannabis History

Cannabis has had a long and storied past in the U.S. At times the plant has been federally prohibited, while during other periods, cultivation was required for use as a resource during times of war. Even now, as marijuana and hemp are being introduced once again to American farms, there is an air of controversy surrounding the cultivation of cannabis among the federal government.

To commemorate this President’s Day, Medical Marijuana, Inc. takes a look at the U.S. Presidents who most supported cannabis cultivation, including hemp, throughout the history of our country.

George Washington, the nation’s first President, famously grew Indian hemp, a term loosely given to forms of cannabis, on all five of his farms: Mansion House, River Farm, Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm, and Union Farm. In a time of widespread travel by sea, the fibers from commercial hemp could be used for cordage and textile to make ropes and sails for the many ships of the time, making hemp a valuable cash crop for colonists and later the citizens of a newly formed United States.

It was President Washington who famously wrote, “Make the most you can of the Indian Hemp seed and sow it everywhere.” However, claims that Washington was also growing psychoactive marijuana on his farms are so far unsubstantiated. Though it is certainly possible, and he wouldn’t have been the only founding father to use cannabis personally.

Thomas Jefferson and James Madison have both been tied to smoking Indian hemp. The latter noting that it gave him the creativity to create his drafts of the American Constitution, while Thomas Jefferson is tied to the quote, “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country.” Four other Presidents of the pre-Civil War era, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, and Franklin Pierce also used marijuana recreationally. The last three in this list, all military men, admitted to smoking marijuana with their troops.

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Then in 1937, all forms of cannabis, including hemp, were made federally illegal under the Harry Anslinger backed Marihuana Tax Act. This legislation effectively outlawed the cultivation, sale, and possession of cannabis in the U.S., ending a once lucrative industry.

However, come the start of WW2, the federal government once again supported the cultivation of hemp for the war effort through the video Hemp for Victory. Under the newly formed War Hemp Industries Department, the government subsidized the planting of much needed hemp, leading to about a million acres of hemp being planted across the West. Unfortunately, after the war, the program was phased out, and hemp went back to its prohibited status in America.

Then, throughout the height of prohibition, there is no record of American Presidents using marijuana. An exception to this may have been President John F. Kennedy, who reportedly used marijuana both recreationally and to deal with severe back pain.

In the modern age, Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton have all reportedly smoked marijuana, though Clinton and Bush both denied the fact while pursuing and during their presidencies.

Barack Obama has been the most open about his use of marijuana in his youth, a telling sign of the direction the country is heading towards legalization. “I inhaled frequently. That was the point,” President Obama famously remarked on the campaign trail in 2008. It was also President Obama who signed the 2014 Farm Bill, launching hemp pilot programs across the U.S. and once again bringing hemp fields back to American farmers.

Learn more about the differences between hemp and marijuana and the rapidly expanding domestic hemp industry on our news feed.