Here’s everything you need to know about cannabis and the presidents who grew it and who smoked it… and what that all means for you.
Today, we’re going to do something a bit different.
With the markets here in the U.S. closed in observation of Presidents’ Day, I wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate some of our country’s leaders who have a rich history with cannabis.
Believe it or not, the history of presidents and cannabis goes all the way back to George Washington himself.
Washington’s initial interest in hemp was as a cash crop, but he eventually decided to cultivate hemp for industrial use at his Mount Vernon estate to satisfy the needs of his own plantation. Hemp fiber was an invaluable resource for the construction of rope and sail canvas, and it was even spun into threads for clothing.
Following the Industrial Hemp Law enacted in Virginia in 2015, Mount Vernon began planting hemp at its Pioneer Farm site. If you visit the historic site today, you can see what the plantation might have looked like when Washington was farming cannabis.
Of course, Washington is just a start…
And some presidents had much bigger impacts on the industry that lead all the way to today…
Washington Wasn’t an Outlier
There was an internet hoax a few years back about Thomas Jefferson smoking hemp. That’s not true – the hemp being grown typically contained less than .3% THC, much like the cannabis being used for CBD today. In other words, if Jefferson put hemp in a pipe, he certainly wouldn’t have gotten “high.”
He did, however, grow hemp at Monticello as well as his Poplar Forest planation, primarily for clothing.
James Madison, our fourth president, also grew hemp. And proving that you don’t have to become president to get in on the game, Benjamin Franklin and Henry Clay – Secretary of State and Speaker of the House – cultivated the crop as well.
The fact is, industrial hemp was simply an important part of the foundation of early America, and any plantation owner was likely to at least consider growing it.
Thankfully, we are beginning to see the value in hemp once more – both for industrial purposes and for the incredible benefits of CBD. We have the 2018 Farm Bill to thank for returning to a sensible approach to hemp.
Splitting the Bill
At one point, Andrew Jackson stated the importance of changing our culture’s attention from cotton to hemp. It’s appropriate, then, that Old Hickory shared space on a banknote with the crop.
This is something former Speaker of the House John Boehner was excited to share with us during the American Cannabis Summit.
In 1914, Jackson appeared on the $10 bill instead of the $20. The reverse of that bill featured a hemp farm.
It’s a bit hard to imagine a culture where cannabis was so widely grown and accepted that it would appear in your billfold the same as the White House or the signing of the Declaration of Independence (a document drafted on hemp-fiber paper, by the way).
The main reason it’s difficult to imagine that is the actions of politicians who came later in the 20th century and painted with a broad brush to proclaim that all cannabis was bad.
The War on Drugs
The “Marihuana Act of 1937” made cannabis – both marijuana and hemp – illegal at a federal level.
It’s laughable today, but at that time, hysteria around “reefer madness” led to fears of cannabis-addled murderers and rapists, and the most important goal was getting that drug off the streets.
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By the time Richard Nixon began his infamous War on Drugs, attitudes were a little different. Ironically, concerns were more about marijuana users who preached pacifism and were viewed as “un-patriotic” for their opposition to U.S. involvement in Vietnam – among other issues, of course.
That didn’t really change that cannabis was still demonized, and from Nixon’s efforts came the Drug Enforcement Administration. While the DEA certainly serves a purpose, politicians are still today working to undo the mistakes the administration made in classifying cannabis as a Schedule I substance.
Today, the descheduling of cannabis is all but an inevitability. Time will tell exactly when that occurs, but we know that when it does, massive profits will follow.
Despite the federal prohibition of cannabis, no fewer than 49 elected officials have admitted to the use of marijuana. Of that total, three were presidents.
Bill Clinton famously said that he had smoked cannabis, but that he “didn’t inhale.” Well, at least he wasn’t under oath for that lie.
George W. Bush privately admitted to using marijuana, despite his rebuke of then-Vice President Al Gore for publicly admitting the same thing.
And when Barack Obama was asked whether he had ever smoked marijuana, he said that he did – and that he inhaled. As he said, “That was point.”
That progression speaks volumes to the speed with which our society’s attitudes towards cannabis have changed. And those changes are continuing at lightning speed.
Our Current President
Has Donald Trump ever used cannabis? I couldn’t tell you. To be honest, our current commander-in-chief has not said a whole lot on cannabis at all.
The little he has said, though, has been promising.
Trump did sign the 2018 Farm Bill into law, and he’s said he would probably sign the STATES Act if it crossed his desk.
It was also of note that he fired an attorney general who was called the biggest obstacle to legalization, and his new attorney general, William Barr – confirmed last Thursday – seems far more respectful of the established cannabis industry.
Again, while it’s difficult to say when federal prohibition could end, there are a lot of credible people who believe it will happen under Trump. My friend and colleague Tim Melvin thinks it could happen next year.
It is becoming clearer and clearer that the benefits of legalizing cannabis are far too great for our leaders to ignore for much longer, and the current front runners for the 2020 elections seem to realize that too.
The Purple Heart
Before I go, there’s one more piece of Presidents’ Day I want to touch on.
While we mainly think about today as a time to celebrate our presidents, this holiday also honors veterans and recipients of the Purple Heart medal. The medal features the likeness of General Washington, and it is awarded to soldiers who are wounded in action. Washington himself established the original Purple Heart when he was Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army.
Washington understood the importance of recognizing our veterans for the sacrifices they make. And it’s just as important that we take care of them.
Unfortunately, we now have more veterans struggling with PTSD than ever before. And the “traditional cocktail” treatment from the medical profession that revolves around opioids is leading to massive addiction problems. What’s worse: 22 veterans commit suicide daily.
Take a moment to hear how cannabis is improving the day-to-day lives of our nation’s heroes.
We’ll be back tomorrow to talk about cannabis outside of North America, but until then, enjoy the market holiday.
As always, thank you for being an integral part of the National Institute for Cannabis Investors,
Executive Director, National Institute for Cannabis Investors
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9 responses to “Our Founding Fathers’ Rich History with Cannabis”
February 18 2019