The Founding Fathers – Their Cannabis, Alcohol & Drugs

The United States Founding fathers were truly pursuing “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”   They had an affinity for alcohol.  Grew acres of hemp on their farms.  And used and grew opioid based drugs and plants in their gardens.

Thanks to the Broadway hit, Hamilton, the founding fathers have become part of pop culture.  But are the men who formed the United States druggies and alcoholics? There are historical documents that suggest there was an excessive use of various drugs and alcohol.

In this episode of Cocktail Time, we will explore some of their drug use, their obsession with alcohol and the acres of Cannabis that grew on their farms.

We will explore: applejack, mead, madeira, and other alcohols and drugs they loved.

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Alcohol of our Founding Fathers

Alcoholic beverages played a large role in the lives of most people in the 1700s. It was often served at social occasions. In addition, it was used medicinally or as a trading commodity.  Mostly because water was not fresh and sanitary to drink.

Distilleries were very common in early the United States. 1810 census indicates there were more than 3600 distilleries operating in the state of Virginia alone.

Prior to the American Revolution, rum was the distilled beverage of choice. But after the war, whiskey quickly grew to replace rum as America’s favorite distilled beverage. Rum, requiresdmolasses from the British West Indies, was more expensive and less easily acquired than locally grown wheat, rye, and corn. Whiskey was also easier to produce than rum, requiring relatively simple processes and equipment. Video about our Founding Father’s who partied: Click Here

Whiskey Rebellion

George Washington paid tax on his distillery. In the 1790s a federal excise tax was collected from distilleries based upon the capacity of the stills and the number of months they distilled. In 1798, Washington paid a tax of $332 on 616 gallons operating 12 months.

This “whiskey tax” was enacted during Washington’s presidency and it immediately raised strong protests from westerners who saw this tax as an unfair assault on their growing source of income. By the middle of 1794, the armed threats and violence against tax collectors sent to secure the revenue came to a head. Under great pressure to deal with this insurrection, Washington called out the militia and led 12,950 men into Western Pennsylvania. Confronted by the Commander in Chief and this sizable military force, the Whiskey Rebellion was put down and the right of the Federal government to tax its population was sustained. Video about our Founding Father’s who partied: Click Here

George Washington:

  • He favored sweet fortified wines like Madeira and Port.
  • He also drank rum punch, porter, and whiskey.
  • He was known to drink up to four glasses every afternoon.
    • It was the largest whiskey distillery in America at the time.
    • In those days, on a large farm, having a distillery was common. It was like a piece of farm equipment.
    • They used corn, rye, malted barley. When rye was not available they used wheat
    • They are still producing at Mt. Veron today. And still using the same methods and recipe to keep history a live.  But it is small batch.After his presidency, he opened one of the largest whiskey distilleries in the country at Mount Vernon. It produced 11,000 gallons in 1799, the year he died. That is 30-50 gallons a day.
    • Apple, peach and persimmon brandies were produced and also vinegar.

Thomas Jefferson

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  • The author of the Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson was the founding wine connoisseur.
  • As president, Thomas Jefferson imported more than 20,000 bottles of wine for his personal collection
  • Most of the founding fathers were very fond of claret and Madeira, but none were as passionate as Jefferson.
  • Jefferson believed that the USA could become a premium wine country. But it took 150 years for the dream to become a reality.
  • When Virginia was first settled in Jamestown. The settlers were surprised to find wild grapes growing.
  • Finding wild grapes was a great find to the Englishmen. Because England was always in conflict with the two biggest producers of wine, France and Spain. And being able to grow grapes of their own was a savor.
  • In 1619, the Act 12 of the Jamestown Assembly, land owners were ordered to grow 10 vine per a year.
  • In 1773, the Italian, fillip Mazzei, started the 1st commercial vineyard next to Jefferson’s Monticello. But when the war started, the vineyard was trample by revolutionary soldiers.
  • Wild vine still growing in the surrounding woods of Monticello. And a modern vineyard is grown on the grounds of the estate.
  • After the war, around 1784, Benjamin Franklin lived in France. Where he had a 11000 bottles wine cellar. Jefferson came to France and was impressed and wanted to learn everything he could while in France.
  • He brought tons of wine back to the USA for he and George Washington
  • George Washington looked to Jefferson for advice on wines
  • When Jefferson was Secretary of State, he and George Washington started the tradition of serving wine during State dinners. This tradition continues to this day.  And even continued during probation.
  • Jefferson was upset when Alexander Hamilton would not waive the taxes on his shipment of wine from France. Which was over 600 bottles. He was so upset, he resigned as Secretary of State.
  • Jefferson is reported to have grown opium poppy at his mansion in Monticello. The DEA raided the Monticello estate in 1987. It removed the poppy plants that had been planted continually there since Jefferson was alive and using opium from them.
    • Jefferson in fact grew many types of poppies. And according to the book, “Thomas Jefferson’s Flower Garden at Monticello,” he grew opium poppies in 1812.  Which is the time he was ill.  He died in 1826.
    • The estate gift shop was even selling the seeds. According to the DEA, the seeds had to go, too. While poppy seeds might be legal, it is never legal to plant them.
    • According to Monticello estate records, he did use laudanum (law-da-dum), a tincture of opium. Which help with the chronic diarrhea his was inflicted with. It is said thought he died from this chronic diarrhea.
    • Opium was not outlawed until 1905.
    • Water was bad in those days. He might have had cholera or dysentery.
    • During his time at State, he suffered from chronic headaches. He took Peruvian bark (quinine /k-why-nine) for his headaches. Which ironically is a side effect of the substance.  It is used for Malaria.
      • Side note on quinine: Quinine/k-why-nine is a flavor component of tonic water and bitter lemon drink mixers.
      • On the soda gun behind many bars, tonic water is designated by the letter “Q” representing quinine.
      • According to tradition, the bitter taste of anti-malarial quinine tonic led British colonials in India to mix it with gin, thus creating the iconic gin and tonic cocktail,
      • The amount of quinine in today’s tonic is much lower and drinking it against malaria is useless.
      • In the US, quinine/k-why-nine is listed as an ingredient in some Diet Snapple flavors.
      • If you put a blacklight up against tonic water, it will reveal the quinine/k-why-nine.

John Adams

  • Who was first vice president of the United States and the second president. And part of the Sons of Liberty
  • Adams loved beer, wine, rum, and hard cider. And is thought to be the biggest drinker of them all.
  • He began every day with a draft of hard cider before breakfast. He drank three glasses of Madeira, a wine fortified with rum, every night before bed. During the bad old days under British taxation, Adams wrote to his wife, “I am getting nothing that I can drink, and I believe I shall be sick from this cause alone.”

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James Madison

  • The fourth president of the United States and drafter of the Bill of Rights was known to guzzle a pint of whiskey each day.
  • Even though drinking was common in the late 18th century as alcohol was looked at as being safer to consume than the drinking water at the time, a pint a day was still considered quite excessive.

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Benjamin Franklin

  • Although this founding father’s image is often linked to beer and breweries, Franklin did not like drunkenness and believed it to be “a very unfortunate vice.” He also never said this quote commonly attributed to him: “Beer is living proof that God loves us and wants to see us happy.”
  • Ben Franklin authored The Drinker’s Dictionary, which defines over 200 euphemisms for getting drunk. Among the favorites: “Piss’d in the Brook,” “Wamble Crop’d,” and “Been too free with Sir John Strawberry.”

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The Boston Tea Party was a Sons of Liberty response to the Tea Act of 1773. But what they do not teach it was really a response to all the unfair taxes imposed by King George.  And a lot of the anger was about alcohol. The Molasses Act, the Sugar Act, and the Stamp Act all targeted the production, sale, import, and export of booze in the colonies.  As Sam Adams as the leader, the Sons of Liberty decided to drink all the rum in protest rather than destroy it in the raid.

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Sam Adams

  • He was a second cousin to fellow Founding Father, President John Adams.
  • One of the lead participants in the start of the call for independence.
  • Educated at Harvard University.
  • He was good at starting a mob. Which usually started in a Traven. He is credited with organizing the Revolution from inside New England taverns by getting the men mad as hell over the high price of rum.
  • A colonial era tavern might also have served as post office, courthouse, wedding hall, and other civic functions. It is these taverns where our Founding Fathers planned and staged the American Revolution. Sam Adams favorite waterhole was the Green Dragon. Which still is serving rum punch in Boston’s North End. The Green Dragon is considered the Headquarters of the Revolution.
  • Why is a beer named after him?
    • Adams lost all his money. His father made him a partner in the family’s malthouse in the Boston area
    • Several generations of Adamses were maltsters, who produced the malt necessary for brewing beer.
    • Adams has often been described as a brewer, but evidence suggests that he worked as a maltster and not a brewer.
    • Sidebar: Adams appears in the video game Assassin’s Creed III.

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Paul Reeve

  • In 1775, Paul Revere famously rode out of Boston to warn his fellow patriots that British were planning a march on Lexington.
  • The word spread fast because the people were in the taverns and he stopped there on the way.
  • According to his own journals, he may have had a few toots before the ride was over.

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John Hancock

  • Is the first signer of the Declaration of Independence
  • But before that, Hancock smuggled more booze into the colonies than most anyone else.
  • He ended up being sued by the British government for unpaid taxes that are equal to about $7 million in today’s money.
  • The seizing of his ship the Liberty was the event that encouraged him to fund and join the Sons of Liberty. And starting the Revolution.
  • British customs was accusing him of smuggling about 100,000 gallons of wine and Madeira. Which was absolutely true.

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What the Colonist Drank


  • No other alcohol held was as big in the colonial economy than rum.
  • Domestic rum was the backbone of the American economy before the Revolution.
  • King George started taxing and raising the price of imported sugar cane molasses from the Caribbean
  • The price of rum went way up, and the Sons of Liberty got mad. The high price of rum was the start of a nation

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  • Beer remained a daily staple of most colonial Americans.
  • It was considered safer than water. Because it was boiled, not because of the alcohol
  • They had lower-alcohol versions, called Small Beer. It was brewed for children.
  • Even the Puritans and Quakers who railed against alcohol consumption were actually only talking about distilled spirits. Beer and cider was not considered a liquor.

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  • British love their beer. But barley and hops did not grow very well in New England
  • Settlers in New England planted tons of apple orchards. Hence hard cider.
  • An average man would have consumed a quart of it by breakfast.

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  • When Americans started pushing westward in 1791. Beer and cider became a scarce commodity outside the colonies
  • Rum having fallen out of favor before the Revolution due to its high cost
  • Any settlers west of the Allegheny Mountains made due with home stills to produce a clear corn liquor, un-aged and resembling what we might call moonshine today.
  • Most goods and services in rural areas were purchased with whiskey, not cash.
  • This would have been the Kentucky area.

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  • Applejack is a strong apple-flavored alcoholic drink produced from apples
  • It was popular in the American colonial period
  • The name derives from “jacking”, a term for “increasing” (alcohol content).
  • The traditional method was “freeze distilling”
  • In colonial New Jersey, applejack was used as currency to pay road construction crews. This lead to the slang name “Jersey Lightning”.
  • Applejack and hard cider are considered the easiest to produce due to the freeze distillation. Which requires low-infrastructure method of production compared to evaporative distillation, and doesn’t, require burning firewood to create heat
  • But Applejack and hard cider were the most important drinks in the colonial era and the early years of the United States, particularly in cold northern areas without access to clean water.
  • Laird & Company
    • For almost 300 years, the art of producing Applejack has been passed down through generations of the Laird Family. It is in its Eighth generation.
    • The oldest licensed applejack distillery in the United States, Laird & Company of Scobeyville, New Jersey.
    • They literal hold Distilling License No. 1 from the Department of the Treasury.
    • Until recently Laird was the country’s only remaining producer of applejack.
    • Laird’s applejack is described as an apple whiskey. Laird’s Applejack is made from a blend of apple brandy and neutral grain spirits.
    • In 1698, Alexander Laird came to the Americas. He settled in Monmouth County, New Jersey. Believed to be a distiller in his homeland, William applied his skills to apples which were the most abundant natural resource in the area. This eventually led to the production of Applejack for his own use.
    • In 1717, the original Laird family distillery was located behind the Colts Neck Inn. The inn served as a stopping point for stage coaches.
    • Prior to 1760, George Washington wrote to the Laird family requesting their Applejack recipe. Entries appear in Washington’s diary in the 1760’s referring to the production of “cyder spirits”.
    • As a Revolutionary soldier serving under George Washington, Robert Laird and his family provided the troops with Applejack.
    • In 1780, Robert Laird recorded the first commercial transaction at the distillery.
    • In 1849, a fire burned the distillery to the ground. Robert Laird re-built the distillery at its current site.
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Applejack Cocktails

Jack Rose Cocktail

Jack Rose one of the most popular Applejack cocktails. It was popular in the 1920s and 1930s. It appeared in Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 classic, The Sun Also Rises, in which Jake Barnes, the narrator, drinks a Jack Rose. It was also a favorite drink of author John Steinbeck. A 1905 article in the National Police Gazette mentions the drink and credits a New Jersey bartender named Frank J. May as its creator. A 1913 news article mentions that sales of the cocktail suffered due to the involvement of Bald Jack Rose in the Rosenthal murder case.

  • 2 ounces Applejack
  • 1-ounce lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • ½ ounce grenadine (see recipe below)

Add ingredients into a shaker. Add ice and shake well. Strain up into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge

Jersey Girl Cocktail

  • Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 oz. Applejack
  • 1 oz. Cointreau
  • 1/2 oz. Fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. Cranberry Juice
  • Lime wedge

Add ingredients into a shaker. Add ice and shake well. Strain up into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge. Creator: Gary Regan

South of the Mason Dixon Cocktail

  • 1 ½ ounce Applejack
  • ¼ ripe fresh peach
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice, fresh
  • ½ ounce honey
  • ½ ounce hot water
  • 1-ounce club soda or lemon/lime soda

In a bowl, mix honey and hot water together (honey cut with an equal amount of hot water is called honey syrup). Cut peach it into chunks. Muddle the peach chuck in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add fresh lemon juice, honey syrup and applejack. Shake it all together with ice.  Pouring through a fine strainer, add to a tall glass with fresh ice. Top with soda. Garnish with fresh peach slices.

Homemade Grenadine

  • 1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 drops orange-flower water
  1. Heat pomegranate juice in a small saucepan over medium heat until steam rises from the surface and a few bubbles have formed around the edge of the pan. Approximately 5 minutes. Be careful no to boil.
  2. Add sugar and stir until it has dissolved, and the liquid is no longer cloudy. Approximately 5 minutes.
  3. Stir in lemon juice and orange-flower water and let the syrup cool to room temperature, about 40 minutes.
  4. Transfer to a container like a Mason jar
  5. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Homemade Applejack

  • 5 gallons of fresh apple juice/cider with no preservatives or added sugar
  • 5 pounds of brown sugar
  • A packet of brewer’s yeast
  • A sealable five-gallon container
  • A fermenting airlock
  • A large pan

Homemade Apple-Infused Brandy

  • 2 Cups red apples, peeled and chopped
  • 3 Cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches (7.62 cm) long
  • 2 Tablespoons (30 mL) of water
  • 2 1/2 Cups sugar
  • 2 Cups (480 mL) brandy
  • 3 Cups (720 mL) white wine, dry


  • Mead is an alcoholic beverage created by fermenting honey with water
  • You can variations made with fruit, spices, grains, or hops.
    • Hops act as a preservative and produces a bitter, beer-like flavor.
  • The alcoholic content of mead may range from about 8% ABV to more than 20%.
  • The defining characteristic of mead is that the majority of the beverage’s fermentable sugar is derived from honey.
  • Also called Honey Wine. Although it is not technically a wine nor a beer.
  • Fermented with three basic ingredients: honey, yeast and water.
  • It has been found as far back as 7000BC and is considered to be the ancestor of all alcoholic beverages.
  • You find that it was and is enjoyed by royalty, epic fictional heroes and even Greek gods.
  • Referred to as “nectar of the gods” by ancient Greeks, mead was believed to be dew sent from the heavens and collected by bees.
  • Many European cultures considered bees to be the gods’ messengers. So, mead was associated with immortality and magical powers
  • Mead to this day is in Greek ceremonies even after its eventual decline in drinking popularity.
  • In early England, mead infused with certain herbs were thought to improve digestion, help with depression and alleviate hypochondria.
  • These types of spiced, herbal meads are called metheglin, derived from the Welsh word for medicine.
  • Mead’s flavor varies greatly depending on honey itself. Because honey tastes different in different regions.
  • A medieval tradition was to drink honey wine for a full moon cycle after a new marriage. All that golden essence would supposedly ensure a fruitful union bearing plenty of children. This mead-based insurance policy was taken so seriously that a bride’s father included a month’s worth of mead in her dowry.
  • At this time, there are over 250 meaderies in the United States.
  • Thanks to Game of Thrones and video games like Skyrim, mead is cool again.
    • They call it “the Game of Thrones effect.”
    • Although mead hardly appears on the show. But meaderies consider that the mead industry’s recent growth is directly from the popularity of the show.
      • Mead got a little tiny mention when Sansa accepted Brienne’s oath of fealty in “The Red Woman:”
      • “And I vow, that you shall always have a place by my hearth, and meat and mead at my table, and a pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new. Arise.”

Madeira & Claret Wine

  • Claret (Claire-rhett): a red wine from Bordeaux, or wine of a similar character made elsewhere.
    • Claret is the British term for a red wine from Bordeaux. Though the term originated in Britain, it is used world-wide.
    • The French term “clairet” is a dark rosé wine typical to Bordeaux. The term has evolved since its first use in Britain to refer to dry, dark red Bordeaux wines. It is usually associated with the upper class.
    • American wineries and estates use “claret” on their labels to refer to red wines made in the same styles and with the grapes typically used in a Bordeaux Blend.
  • Madeira Wine
    • Madeira is a fortified wine. Other liquors are added
    • It gets its name from the island of Madeira, a small, beautiful rock in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
    • Madeira’s unique taste comes from repeatedly heating the wine. The heating creates a wine with fascinating flavors of roasted nuts, stewed fruit, caramel, and toffee.
    • Used in cooking. But Madeira cooking wine is not true Madeira.
    • During the 1600 and 1700s, wine often spoiled and needed to be fortified (by adding a little brandy) to survive the voyage at sea.
    • At the time, the island of Madeira was an important provisioning point for journeys to the Americas and the East Indies.
    • Casks of Madeira wine would be heated and cooled as the ships passed though the tropics. Shippers noticed how the wine’s flavor deepened and became better and called this sea-aging “Vinho da Roda.”

Recommend watch: The Cultivated Life: Thomas Jefferson and wine

  • Grog
    • Mixture of rum and water
    • Pirates would add lemon for scurvy.
    • But rum became to expensive after the Revolutionary war. Because the molasses came from the British West Indies.

Cannabis and Drugs in the 18th Century

  • Did you know that cannabis was a popular cash crop in the 18th century?
  • They called it hemp. The word “marijuana” or “marihuana” did not appear until the late 1890s
  • The Countries’ Founders knew the plant as hemp.
  • Hemp was a crop that dated back to the early English days in Colonial America. It was used to make rope and canvas products for ships, cloth for fabric, and pulp for paper.
  • There is a myth that the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are written on hemp paper. But in fact, they are written on parchment. But some of the drafts might have been composed on hemp paper. Hemp paper was widely used at that time.
  • If the Founders smoked hemp, they likely didn’t get high from it. The type of hemp they grew had very low levels of THC.

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Thomas Jefferson

  • Many modern writings claim that Thomas Jefferson was quoted as saying, “Some of my finest hours have been spent on my back veranda, smoking hemp and observing as far as my eye can see.”
  • According to the Monticello Foundation, “This statement has not been found in any of the writings of Thomas Jefferson. … Thomas Jefferson did grow hemp, but there is no evidence to suggest that Jefferson was a habitual smoker of hemp, tobacco, or any other substance.”
  • Jefferson was eager to grow hemp, he illegally smuggled potent hemp seeds from China into France then into the States. At that time hashish smoking was popular.  And China’s hemp seeds were known for their potency.
  • Jefferson invented a tool for crushing the plants stems during fiber processing.
  • Jefferson is believed to have used opium for medical reasons: to soothe aches or a cough, not recreational use. He was also known to have used quinine/k-why-nine to help relieve his frequent headaches and laudanum (law-da-dum) for treating severe diarrhea – a problem that later played a significant role in his cause of death.
    • Laudanum is a tincture of opium containing approximately 10% powdered opium by weight (the equivalent of 1% morphine).
    • Laudanum is known as a “whole opium” preparation since it historically contained all the opium alkaloids. It is still used today. But mainly for diarrhea.
  • Thomas Jefferson directed that “an acre of the best ground” at his Poplar Forest estate be kept for a permanent patch of the stuff. The object of their affection was not tobacco, the ubiquitous “Indian weed” responsible for the fortunes and failings of so many 18th-century Americans. This was a weed of a different sort, one that would likewise collect healthy shares of praise and scorn.

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George Washington

  • George often wrote about how lucrative cannabis was.
  • He is quoted as saying, “Make the most you can of [hemp], by sowing them again in drills!” A 1794 letter from George Washington to William Pierce. “Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown anywhere.”
  • Washington shared how growing cannabis was not always easy in the eighteenth century. “Began to separate the male from female plants rather too late . . . ” wrote Washington in his grow log. “Pulling up the (male) hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month.” George Washington may have also referenced hashish in one letter, “The artificial preparation of hemp, from Silesia, is really a curiosity.”
  • “Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month” indicates he was going for female plants with higher THC content.
  • According to Mt. Vernon, “Throughout his lifetime, George Washington cultivated hemp at Mount Vernon for industrial uses. The fibers from hemp held excellent properties for making rope and sail canvas. In addition, hemp fibers could be spun into thread for clothing or, as indicated in Mount Vernon records, used in repairing the large seine nets Washington used in his fishing operation along the Potomac. At one point in the 1760’s Washington considered whether hemp would be a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco but determined wheat was a better alternative.”

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James Madison

  • Our nation’s fourth president and “Father of the Constitution” was heard to say that smoking hemp inspired him to find a new nation based on Democratic principles.

Benjamin Franklin

  • Franklin started the first commercial cannabis operation in America, by starting a paper mill using the fibers of hemp.
  • Thomas Paine’s inspired literature, such as the pamphlet “Common Sense,” which was printed on that very paper and would stir up the colonists to rebel against the British powers.

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James Monroe

  • Openly smoked hashish while he was Ambassador to France and continued smoking it until his death at age 73.

Hemp, it’s Right on the Money

  • On the 1914 $10 bill. Artwork of a hemp harvest is on the back of the bill
  • It is thought that Note that Pennsylvania produced hemp through the 1900’s, and the crop depicted on the currency is too tall to be wheat or flax, so it’s rather obvious that it’s hemp.
  • The back was designed by Clair Aubrey Huston; Farming, a scene in Manchester Township, York County, Pennsylvania, was engraved by Marcus W Baldwin; Industry, a mill in Joliet, Illinois, was engraved by HL Chorlton. The first day of issue was November 16, 1914.”
  • The bill is also made of hemp

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