George Washington Was a Pot Head Wasn't he?

I have heard Thomas Jefferson traded marijuana blends with George Washington and the other founding fathers. I find this hard to believe, but the rumor is ubiquitous. Can anyone verify if it is true or false? I e-mailed the famous Jefferson scholar Clay Jenkins but got no response. However, on his podcast, The Thomas Jefferson Hour, he did admit to donning his Thomas Jefferson impersonation gear and visiting Burning Man. Should I take this as a tacit admission of our third president’s smoking habits? —Piddyx

 

Two approaches we could take here. The first is we just stick to the facts. Lotta fun that is. The second is we wave gaily at the facts en route to a more entertaining sociopolitical perspective. This is the Fox News system, and you can see it works for them. Let’s see what we can come up with based on the following:

• Botanically, marijuana equals hemp.

• Useful for rope, paper, and clothing, hemp was long promoted in Virginia as an alternative cash crop to tobacco. Tobacco depleted the soil, and gluts sometimes drove prices down. Shifting economics led to a small “hemp boom” by 1765. In two Virginia counties, folks were allowed to pay their taxes in hemp.

• Both Washington and Jefferson tried growing hemp on their Virginia farms, with mixed success. Washington was never able to turn a profit on the crop despite sustained effort. Jefferson also seems to have grown hemp strictly for local consumption, from which we deduce he couldn’t make money at it either. In short, not only were Washington and Jefferson marijuana farmers, they were unsuccessful marijuana farmers.

• Washington continued to tout the crop after he became president. Jefferson invented a better “hemp brake” to separate the fibers from the stalks, something he thought was so important agriculturally that he refused to patent it. This tells us two things. First, Jefferson ran an advanced marijuana processing facility. Second, he was a socialist.

• Both Jefferson and Washington traded seeds and plants with other farmers on a regular basis. Jefferson wrote of receiving hemp seedlings from someone in Missouri, and it would have been only neighborly to send some Virginia seedlings back. Chances are Washington did the same. We’re obliged to conclude: Washington and Jefferson weren’t merely marijuana farmers, they were marijuana dealers.

Were they marijuana smokers, though? Let’s continue our review.

• No great social stigma was attached to smoking pot in the late 1700s and early 1800s—pot use wasn’t considered a problem until the early 1900s.

• Thomas Pynchon’s novel Mason & Dixon (1997) features a scene in which Washington shares a blunt with the eponymous surveyors while Martha dutifully supplies them with doughnuts and other munchies. This doesn’t prove anything, being fiction and all.

• Despite the above, I couldn’t find any contemporary accounts suggesting either Washington or Jefferson ever indulged in, advocated, or even mentioned smoking pot. • But let’s not give up too quickly. In his diary for Aug. 7, 1765, Washington writes of separating male from female hemp. Female marijuana plants are the ones that contain enough THC to be worth smoking. But he probably divided the plants because the males made stronger fiber while the female plants produced the seed needed for next year’s crop. Jefferson in his Farm Book wrote that a female plant would produce a quart of seed, and a bushel of seed was enough to plant an acre.

Do these guys sound like midnight tokers? No, they sound like farmers. Which just shows how clever they were at covering their tracks. —Cecil Adams

 

Is there something you need to get straight? Take it up with Cecil at straightdope.com.

Our Readers Say

The answer is an emphatic No - Washington & Jefferson weren't potheads. They were never exposed to the psychoactive indica varieties of cannabis, which were at that time confined to the Asian continent. They grew cannabis sativa, the fiber strain that lacks significant quantities of marijuana's active ingredient THC. Jefferson was a naturalist and wine connoisseur who wrote in depth about agricultural crops in his Notes on the State of Virginia. If he had known that American hemp was psychoactive, he would have said so. His silence is deafening.
I once had a long chat with the architect of Turkey Run Farm Park built during Nixon's Admin. (adjacent to CIA headquarters, in McLean). Turkey Run is modeled after a typical poor farming community in the 1700s. Not that I gave a rat's ass about poor farmers, but the woman explaining all this was drop dead gorgeous and I was trying to do anything to drum up a conversation. Some how Cannibus came up, and she had researched that Jefferson use to have 3-and 4-day smoke-outs at Monticello with Washington in attendance. In fact she even claimed they sired a few kids from the "local help". And the "Smoke house" at Monticello had more than tobacco in it. But she was just a lowly British PhD candidate doing her homework in Early American History - and since Orsen's 1984 has come and gone- no such records exist. So I guess it never happened...
Please get your facts straight Mr. Gieringer. Cannabis Sativa is one of two primary phenotypes of Cannabis and both Cannabis Sativa and Cannabis Indica can contain large amounts of THC, although typical non-hemp strains of Sativa contain more THC than Indica varieties which have a higher level of Cannabidiol. Both varieties contain THC EXCEPT for strains bred specifically for fiber.

I'd be interested to see where this lowly British Phd candidate found the data on Jefferson and Washington had "smoke-outs", even as a pro-cannabis legalization advocate, I'd never heard that and don't necessarily find it plausible. The earliest records of western white europeans using cannabis products for consciousness altering seems to be the early 1800's after Napoleons troops brought the practice back to France after occupying Egypt, and that being hashish resins, not the unprocessed plant.
Usually I'm not one to read comments let alone leave one but i have to say that I cant help it this time. Publius, Mike Spike, & Dale Gieringer.... these three people have come together to show that it is possible for humans to communicate their ideas, views, research, and yes even their own personal opinions.... without having to turn to insults or slanderous speech..... and for that gentalmen I salute you.....

Oh, and as a side point. It doesn't really matter if they smoked it or not... rather that they set forth to give us the right to it..... and some how we let it be stripped away... a law in effect for the sole purpose of making criminals and controlling our freedom to choose. ohhhh well time to continue the stoned stumbling of the web for more stuff. Stay safe in these dark times friends.
You are emphatically wrong about Jefferson's "socialism" since he refused to patent the hemp brake. Many people who are anti-socialist disbelieve in patenting, copyrighting, and the idea of intellectual property. If his refusal to patent the hemp brake is combined with many of his other ideas, he is one of the major proponents for an anti-socialist view. Look at people who are from Mises Libertarian background. They are vehemently anti-patent. They are also vehemently anti-socialist.
Regardless to whom is right or wrong the fact is they farmed it to either trade or sell. Hemp was used for many things as we know and for why do tell isn't it permitted to be harvested for these same reasons. With todays knowledge and new laws being voted in by the people not legislation we have to wonder about the truth, that maybe, they were right, after all do we really know the whole truth of today and what we are lead to believe, let alone the past?
The varying levels of thc and cbd in sativa is not what classifies it as a good hemp plant. It is a separate genotype ruderalis.
This is a great discussion worth reviving.

First, Publius: Mr. Gieringer did have his facts straight. Although today, pure cannabis sativa strains can have very high THC content indeed (see, for example, Lamb's Bread), in the 1700s "cannabis sativa" was synonymous with "fiber hemp," and any plant which went by the name sativa referred to an industrial strain.

That said, I don't entirely agree with Mr. Gieringer's position either, despite my immense respect for his advocacy. At least some of the cannabis Washington grew at Mount Vernon WAS cannabis indica, special-ordered all the way from India. (Source: Martin Booth, Cannabis: A History. St. Martin's Press, 2004. Page 42) So there is more than one possible reason why he separated his males away from the females (which he called his "blossom hemp" in his agricultural journal), and it's hard to imagine why he would send all the way to India for hemp seeds if he only intended to grow them for fiber; as Cecil Adams points out, hemp seeds were hardly scarce in Virginia.
yes, they were pot heads because during colonization the British had spears of influence in Asia, and when Spanish colonization occurred in south america many strains were taking from there. their were many types of marijuana including indica and sativa from all around the world, all because of British needs.
Back in the day it was law that farmers had to designate a portion of their farms to growing it because it was used to make clothes and paper. It was so valuable that in a few states you could used it to pay your taxes and was sometimes used instead of money for basic trade. People have to remember thing were different than and the stigma that is attached to it now didn't exist than. Just like with steroids. Many athletes took them because they were so helpful, all before they became illegal. Same thing here.
I always find it "amusing" when certain people have to "perverse" historical content to try and associate it with their own actions... Why do we find it necessary to associate popular names with our habits? In short, it comes from the internal balance all humans have with "right and wrong". We all know whether something we do is right or wrong, but thanks to our cerebral cortex we can allow perversions of that natural balance to be affected with "perverse" falsehoods in our "beliefs" about something..

In truth, we SERIOUSLY discredit our founding fathers when we attempt to associate the great deeds they achieved in agriculture to our misdeeds of finding new ways to get high...

If you want to get high, GET HIGH!! You don't need to associate your bad practices with someone else for justification.

All the research in the world will never take something that unnatural and doesn't belong in your body, and justify it... Using an argument against alcohol, or fatty foods, etc.. It's all hype and an attempt to perverse the REAL truth...

You get an euphoria from smoking dope because your body is trying to tell you something! Either you choose to listen, or you choose to continue your actions... But it does not change the genuine "truth" behind the practice...
ONE of George Washington main crops was hemp. He was president, don't you think he would learn EVERYTHING about hemp including THC and what the high is like. YA who said pot smokers and eaters are lazy and stupid?

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