12 of the Best and Worst Cannabis Quotes in American History

Cannabis has been cultivated for thousands of years, making its way around the world and leaving recreational and medicinal benefits but social and political turmoil in its wake.  Despite its ancient history, human civilization can’t determine whether it loves or hates the plant, even in the face of evidence making its therapeutic versatility plain. The following quotes make cannabis’ polarizing reputation clear.

“Seems to me if grate Men dont leeve off writing Pollyticks, breaking Heads, boxing Ears, ringing Noses and kicking Breeches, we shall by and by want a world of Hemp more for our own consumshon.”

-President John Adams, 1763

The former president’s quote seems quite applicable to our day given the madness that seems to have taken over American politics.  However, President Adams was likely referring to the industrial, non-psychoactive variation of the Cannabis sativa species which was used then to make the rope used for hangings. Morbid humor, I guess.

“How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries, and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured.  No one knows, when he places a marijuana cigarette to his lips, whether he will become a joyous reveler in musical heaven, a mad insensate, a calm philosopher, or a murderer.” 

-Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger, July 1937

This incendiary comment definitely fits into the “one of the worst” category because of its unapologetic ignorance. I mean, Anslinger actually says this is all conjecture and no one knows if any of what he is warning the world of is true. Anslinger served as the first FBN Commissioner, a job akin to the director of the FBI. The Commissioner fueled the anti-pot, “Reefer Madness,” propaganda-driven campaign that culminated in the prohibition slowly being dismantled today.

“When I was in England, I experimented with marijuana a time or two and didn’t like it. I didn’t inhale, and I didn’t try it again.” 

-President Bill Clinton, 1992

President Clinton claims to have not inhaledThere is only one response needed for each claim the former president made in this statement. Sure you didn’t, Mr. President. Sure you didn’t. Later, Clinton said that he was telling the truth in his own way. “I didn’t say I was holier than thou; I said I tried. I never denied that I used marijuana,” he said.

Again, sure you didn’t, sir.

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people.  You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or blacks, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities.  We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.  Did we know we were lying about the drugs?  Of course we did.” 

-Advisor to President Nixon John Ehrlichman, 1994 

When your reputation has already been tarnished by your involvement in the most scandalous presidential misconduct in American history, you’ve pretty much got nothing to lose by being honest. The co-conspirator in Watergate scandal made this shocking admission to journalist Dan Baum about the real purpose of the disastrous war on drugs.

“Cannabis smoking, even of crude, low-grade product, provides effective symptomatic relief of pain, muscle spasms, and intraocular pressure elevations in selected patients failing other modes of treatment.” 

-Dr. Ethan Russo, January 2002 

Dr. Russo has released numerous publications detailing the medical capacity of cannabis, and this is only one of them.  This statement was one of the conclusions he and his team of researchers came to in the report entitled “Chronic Cannabis Use in the Compassionate Investigational New Drug Program: An examination of benefits and adverse effects of legal clinical Cannabis.” For his research on the entourage effect and the benefits of terpenoids, see his report “Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects.”

“I inhaled frequently… that was the point.”

-President Barack Obama, 2006 

The former president certainly distinguished himself from the Clintons during his first campaign for the presidency when he made this comical and honest comment. The president has been open about his cannabis use in his books, and while he described this behavior as a mistake, he made it clear during his presidency that enforcing cannabis prohibition was not one of the priorities he wanted the Department of Justice to rigorously enforce.

“Now everything you’ve heard is why, I, the actual owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club, will be dedicating all of my energy toward fighting for freedom and fairness, which begins with legalizing marijuana here in Alaska. And as for this job, well, not that I have a choice but, f*** it, I quit.”

-Founder of Alaska Cannabis Club Charlo Greene, September 2014 

In an epic live resignation, the founder of Alaska Cannabis Club admitted to her second job, giving the authorities a broadcasted confession they could use to prosecute her.  Unfortunately, that is exactly what the state is doing. Charlo Green faces over five decades worth of prison time for her involvement in the Cannabis Club even though the state has made the recreational use of cannabis legal—largely due to Greene’s efforts—since her shocking resignation.

“Good people don’t smoke marijuana.”

-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, April 2016 

Come on, man. Yes, they do. AG Sessions may be the head of the justice department, but he sure knows how to make wildly unfair remarks.  A witness even testified that the former senator jokingly said that he thought the Ku Klux Klan “was okay until I found out they smoked pot.”

“How obscene is it that an American in Mississippi will go to jail for standing on the corner and smoking a joint, and yet white boys here in Colorado are selling a billion dollars’ worth of weed and no one’s going to jail?”

-Dispensary owner Wanda James, February 2017 

Wanda James is the first Black woman to own a cannabis dispensary, but that fact is shocking to her. James takes the disproportionate cannabis-related arrests of Blacks and Hispanics personally, even saying that she and her husband decided to get involved in the cannabis industry “as kind of a political uproar.”

“It’s been this experience of seeing the hypocrisy within marijuana prohibition, and how it’s destroyed so many lives and communities who get caught up in the war on drugs, while other communities are more easily able to have their breaking of the law exonerated or overlooked. There is a massive injustice being done in a nation that believes in equal justice under the law; marijuana enforcement makes a mockery of that ideal.”

-Senator (D) Corey Booker, October 2017 

Cory Booker proposed legislation to legalize cannabisIn August, Senator Booker introduced the Marijuana Justice Act to the House of Representatives.  If passed, the bill would legalize cannabis at the federal level. This isn’t the first time that this kind of bill has been introduced, but the current socio-political climate galvanized by the legalization movement’s success in 29 states plus the District of Columbia might make it the last time.

Dianna Benjamin

About the author: Dianna Benjamin is a freelance writer, teacher, wife, and mom horrified and fascinated by social justice and our inability--yet constant pursuit--to get it right.