No, John F. Kennedy Didn't Smoke Weed In The White House (That We Know Of)

There's a long, well-documented history of the Kennedy family presenting an ideal image that they often failed to match in their private lives, the one president from their clan very much included. While in the Senate and the White House, John F. Kennedy carried on affairs, hid the extent of his myriad health problems, and used insider knowledge to indulge one particular vice; just before he signed the Cuba embargo, he had an aide go out and fetch him 1200 Cuban cigars.

There have been claims over the years that Kennedy enjoyed another kind of smoke while in the White House, one that had been effectively criminalized since 1937 according to PBS. Kennedy is alleged to have smoked marijuana as president. The National Inquirer first published the story in 1976 (via The Harold Weisberg Archive), a story that tied his drug use to an affair with artist Mary Pinchot Meyer. Several authors have repeated the claim since, and pro-legalization memes of Kennedy smoking have circulated around the internet. Tommy Chong brought one to wider attention via an Instagram post in 2020.

Unfortunately for Chong and others who've shared the story, it has no verifiable evidence. PolitiFact and Snopes both investigated and came up short of any proof. And representatives from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library told both outlets that Kennedy's medical records made no mention of marijuana.

The story about JFK smoking pot concerns pleasure, not pain

The meme Tommy Chong shared on Instagram claimed that John F. Kennedy smoked marijuana to manage his pain from Addison's disease and chronic back trouble. It's true that Kennedy suffered from both conditions, among others; per ABC News, he also dealt with prostatitis, urinary tract infections, and colitis, and his back pain reached a point where he couldn't manage to pull on his socks. He took multiple medications a day to manage his pain.

But marijuana wasn't one of them, at least according to his available medical records (via PolitiFact). The one unconfirmed story about his smoking pot as president paints it as a recreational use, not a medicinal one. The National Enquirer's 1976 claim, provided by former Washington Post editor James Truitt from what he said were conversations with Mary Pinchot Meyer, was that Kennedy and Meyer went into a White House bedroom together in 1962, where Meyer provided the president with marijuana. They allegedly went through three joints together before JFK called it a night, joking that he couldn't afford to be too high: "Suppose the Russians did something now."

According to Truitt's story, Kennedy expressed interest in smoking pot again but never found the time. He also allegedly offered to return Meyer's drug gift with one of his own: cocaine. It was implied in the Enquirer article that the president had once dabbled in that drug too. 

Kennedy administration reports found marijuana was not a violent drug

John F. Kennedy may not have used marijuana to treat his medical conditions. He may not even have smoked three joints with a mistress; there's no way to confirm or deny that story. But the development of U.S. drug policy during his administration can be verified, and drug policy was drifting in a more lenient direction during his years in the White House.

According to PBS, mandatory sentences for drug-related offenses had been on the books since 1952 at the federal level. A first-time offender with marijuana faced up to 10 years in prison (the minimum was two) and a $20,000 fine. But marijuana and other drugs became increasingly popular in the 1960s. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson after him, commissioned reports on marijuana throughout the 1960s, and they all found that it did not increase violence or other illicit drug use. By the end of the decade, mandatory sentences were seen as a failed deterrent, and Congress repealed them in 1970 (a turn back towards strict prohibition came with Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan).