It seems that cannabis has always been a controversial substance, especially in the United States — but that isn’t exactly the whole truth. There have always been some Americans who have looked down on the drug’s use, but the fact is that cannabis is largely responsible for the survival of colonies in the New World — and for the success of the Founding Fathers who forged what became one of the greatest nations the world has ever known.
It is common knowledge in stoner circles that various Founding Fathers grew weed on their plantations, but the story is much, much more interesting than that. The connection between cannabis and the U.S. goes deep into the nation’s roots.
It is incredibly likely that the first colonies settled by Europeans in North America would not have survived had it not been for cannabis. When English, French and Spanish ships landed in what would become Virginia, Maryland and the Carolinas, settlers found swamps and rocky soil, which made traditional European crops essentially impossible to grow until the colonies could put work into making the terrain more arable. Fortunately, settlers brought with them cannabis seeds, and the resulting hemp crops were able to keep the colonies alive until other crops could grow.
At this time in history, hemp was one of the most valuable crops in the world — not because of its psychoactive effects when consumed but because of its strength as a fiber. Over 90 percent of the world’s clothing was made of hemp, and most ship sails and ropes used hemp, which is lightweight and mold resistant as well as extremely durable. Colonies were almost guaranteed to be able to use or sell their hemp crop, which could mature in a matter of weeks.
The value of cannabis was incredibly stable and certain that many colonies staked their success on the crop. A handful of colonies allowed hemp to function as a currency, and most required landowners to devote at least a portion of their farm to cultivating the crop. This is why many Founding Fathers have associations with cannabis: As powerful landowners in Virginia, both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were mandated by the colonial government to grow reefer.
Unfortunately, other claims about the connection between cannabis and the founding of the United States are usually false. None of the Founding Fathers are known to have smoked weed, and neither the Declaration of Independence nor the Constitution is written on hemp paper.
As the colonies became states and the settlements aged, hemp started to become replaced by more lucrative crops. However, cannabis never disappeared from America entirely…
After the American Civil War, hemp production in the United States was well past its peak, but cannabis in another form was making its way into American homes. As the psychoactive properties of cannabis gained greater renown, white Americans began taking advantage of the plant in tinctures and other medicines.
This was the very beginning of the patent medicine craze, in which medicine manufacturers could add almost any ingredient to their product and make almost any claim about its effects without ramification. Thus, cannabis was sometimes bundled with other herbs — and sometimes with other drugs, like cocaine and opium — and sold as a solution to pain, insomnia, digestive troubles and many other ills.
At the same time, immigrants from various parts of the world brought their practice of smoking cannabis recreationally into the U.S. — which white Americans weren’t pleased about. White Americans in power launched a massive propaganda campaign against “marijuana” which was deemed an incredibly dangerous drug to both individual users and their surrounding communities. Suddenly, white, non-Hispanic Americans became afraid of a plant that had been in their country since before its founding.
The country’s first cannabis ban passed in California in 1913 as a means of controlling the growing population of Turkish immigrants, and by 1937, the Federal Government developed a taxation system that essentially made cannabis cultivation, possession and sale illegal everywhere. Of course, now states are working to undo those decades of prohibition and bring the country back to its cannabis roots. Visitors to Boston can find a cannabis dispensary just blocks from historic monuments dating to the nation’s founding.
The United States owes its early success to cannabis, and the sooner Americans remember this fact, the sooner they can gain more widespread legalization.
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