In the 1990s, a single dollar bill caused a huge controversy that to this day is still being debated. Next to George Washington’s face, somebody scrawled “I Grew Hemp” in a speech bubble.
Soon, a once little-known fact that George Washington’s grew hemp at his Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, had spread across the country. It led some to ask the question: did George Washington Smoke Pot?
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The relationship between the founding fathers and marijuana is a hotly debated issue. Just google “Did George Washington smoke weed?” and you’ll get a stream of tall tales and heated opinions on the issue, all seeming to contradict each other.
In honor of President’s Day (and George’s birthday), we decided to cut through the noise and separate fact from fiction. We dug through the research, plucked out what historians and other experts have to say on the issue, and tossed out the rest.
So, was Washington a stoner?
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Like many mysteries of history, we may never really know. But here’s what we found out:
George Washington and hemp
It is a widely known fact that hemp was once cultivated at George Washington’s farm Mount Vernon in Virginia. Like many other Virginian farmers of the time, George Washington grew hemp because it was a staple cash crop in the 18th century.
Industrial hemp was a versatile tool for early colonists. It was instrumental in their shipbuilding industry to make ropes and rigging among other things. Because of this, some in the 1700’s believed that hemp could be even more profitable than tobacco.
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Because of the many practical ways hemp was used in America throughout this historical period, and because the THC content in hemp plants is so low, the hemp at Mount Vernon was most likely used exclusively for industrial purposes rather than getting baked.
So why the confusion? We’ll get to that.
But did George Washington smoke pot?
The idea that George Washington smoked pot has been circulating the internet for a while now. But the rumor actually originated in print, when a newspaper article started gaining widespread notoriety in the 1970s, labeling George Washington as a pothead.
The newspaper clipping can still be found online in the Ann Arbor library district archives stating that George Washington was among 7 presidents that smoked pot.
But is it true? Let’s dive deeper.
The elusive Dr. Burke
The article lists Dr. Burke of the American Historical Reference Society as its primary source. Both are fictitious as discovered by an irate Smithsonian Institute official after Surgeon General Jesse Steinfield quoted Dr. Burke.
Without a credible official and an organization to back these monumental claims, the newspaper article is most likely a hoax. Although, much debate remains on the internet.
But High Times says so!
High Times published a story saying George Washington did use cannabis. They cite various primary source journal entries. Each is indicative of growing hemp in a manner conducive to creating THC or using it to alleviate pain.
The Journal of The American Revolution does a pretty good job refuting this claim and putting most of the journal entries in context. But the debate still rages on in all corners of the internet.
Final words on Washington as a stoner
While there are plenty of claims that Washington smoked, most likely made by historians who used pot, there are as many others who believe that he grew hemp for solely industrial purposes.
While there is no concrete proof that Washington did smoke pot, there is also no irrefutable evidence that he did not. If he did smoke pot, it was most likely a low THC plant resembling modern-day CBD, as this is what existed at the time.
So, did George Washington use cannabis?
There isn’t enough historical evidence to prove that Washington was a cannabis consumer. He was most likely a small-scale hemp farmer like many others of the day. However, there is also not enough evidence to completely rule out him using those hemp products from time to time.
The mystery will prevail, but the bottom line is this: boring as it is, anyone that tells you our first president was a stoner is wrong.
Still, it’s fun to think of Washington as our founding hemp farmer.