The Surprising History of Our First President’s Hemp Crops

17 November, 2022
The Surprising History of Our First President’s Hemp Crops

Looking back throughout American history, it's clear that for a long time, cannabis was viewed in a negative light. With this in mind, you might expect that perception was even worse closer to the country's formation. You would probably never imagine that a U.S. president, let alone our very first president, would have condoned cannabis. Well, believe it or not, George Washington not only had uses for it, but he grew his own hemp crops. But in what ways did he use hemp? After all, we know this plant has many different applications beyond consumption. This is the surprising history of our first president's hemp crops.

Industrial Hemp Growth


Not only was George Washington our first president, but he was also a prolific farmer. He grew crops at his plantation in Mount Vernon and kept a detailed record of his farming activities. 

Initially, Washington was involved in tobacco farming but was later in search of an alternative source of revenue. That's when he came across hemp as a potential substitute. Known as cannabis sativa, the form of hemp he cultivated was an industrial strain used to manufacture products like canvas, rope, clothing, and other fibrous goods. 

Ultimately, Washington chose wheat as his primary focus, but he continued to have a vested interest in hemp during his presidency and toward the end of his life. Although he stopped growing it for money, he found the crop to be a very useful resource in manufacturing supplies for his farms. Because there was less than .3% THC to be found in industrial hemp, in those days it was not the kind of plant that was grown for consumption. 

Cannabis sativa had been part of western agriculture long before Washington started growing it on his plantation. It wasn't until people of European descent became aware of cannabis indica (which was native to India) that they realized this plant could benefit the mind and body as well. The strain was making the rounds during Washington's presidential years — does that mean he was a consumer?


The Jury’s Out, but It’s Possible Washington Consumed Cannabis

While there's no hard evidence to definitively prove Washington consumed cannabis indica (the name once given to plants that induced psychotropic effects), he did take an interest in the strain. Throughout his two presidential terms, he instructed his Mount Vernon horticulturist to cultivate this special plant. 

His correspondence and extensive records contain several clues suggesting he may have experimented with cannabis consumption. Unfortunately, because documentation is unclear as to how he used cannabis indica, the best we can do is speculate.

One argument is that because he didn't spend much time at Mount Vernon when he was president, there weren't many opportunities for him to have a first-hand experience with the plant. Another argument against his hypothetical consumption practice is that the prominent cannabis indica strain back then (jute) did have characteristics that made it useful as a resource. 

Regardless, at the time, this type of cannabis was rare in our young country, and jute wasn't even the strain that was cultivated at Mount Vernon. Washington was well-traveled and could have known more about the plant's potential than his American colleagues. Some might view his eager curiosity as a clue to his true intentions for growing cannabis indica. 

In his logs, he mentioned the separation of male and female plants, which some would argue was an intentional breeding technique, though as we've discussed in the past, the female part of the plant is what goes into the pipe. His diaries also include a footnote stating, "In the 1790s he experimented with a variety from India," referring to our cannabis indica. History may forever speculate as to how he experimented with this strain.

Whatever the truth may be, there's one thing we know for sure: George Washington recognized hemp as a highly useful crop. Today, we recognize cannabis for its uses beyond industrial purposes. Whether or not Washington was privy to its medicinal applications, it's widely regarded today as a natural way to promote overall wellness. 

So if anyone ever tries to give you a hard time over your enthusiasm for cannabis, just politely remind them that our first president would have likely approved!