In Every Issue of My Herbs Magazine: Series about the healing properties of cannabis
No discussion about cannabis in the United States would be complete without first talking about the history of the plant. Before the U.S. was its own country, the first colonies in Virginia during the 1600s were ordered by the Queen of England to grow hemp. During this time Americans were able to pay taxes with hemp rather than money. It is in fact true that two of the nation’s most notable historical figures – George Washington and Thomas Jefferson – grew hemp, or marijuana as it’s called today.
Washington signed the Constitution of the United States of America and was the country’s first president. Jefferson was the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence, and the third president of the country. It is also interesting to note that both men owned slaves. Neither slavery nor hemp were considered evil during this period in the nation’s history. Although, slave ownership was something America’s Founding Fathers wanted stopped at some point.
Advocates for marijuana legalisation often site the cultivating of hemp by important men as reason for changing laws. As is often the case with many political discussions in the United States, other evidence is left out. Washington and Jefferson were growing the plant because its fibers can be used to make many things. The two men even tried to sell their crops to England, but the quality was so poor that merchants in England would not buy them. They were better suited to being politicians rather than farmers.
The first two drafts of The Declaration of Independence were written on Dutch-made hemp paper. Many marijuana advocates stress that the very document outlining the principals the great nation was founded on, was made using a plant that is now illegal to grow in the nation. Though the first two drafts were written on hemp paper, the final and official version was printed on parchment made from animal skins. The drafts were never signed and thus, were not official. Also, the hemp paper used was Dutch, not American, which means it was imported. A person would have to do exactly the same thing today if they wanted to acquire hemp paper in the U.S.
For the next 170 years or so, hemp was cultivated widely in America and the quality improved. There were no laws prohibiting its cultivation and it was a very valuable crop in many regions of the nation. Tobacco farmers often grew it to recondition the soil in their fields. Some stopped growing tobacco completely and instead grew hemp plants, which were more valuable and better for the soil.
It was known that smoking the plant had an intoxicating effect, but it remained unpopular. Cultivating hemp for smoking was more difficult than growing the plant for fibers. If farmers wanted to grow something to be smoked, tobacco was a much easier crop to work with.
Text: John A. Bowersmith