On July 4, 1776, the American colonies committed high treason by declaring independence from the British.Empire.
Rejecting the Crown’s dominion over them, the Founding Fathers envisioned a future of Popular Sovereignty, with all power coming from the people.
Among the other great ideas that the Founding Fathers had conceived of (or borrowed from the oral Constitution of the Iroquois Nations), at the time, many of our nation’s first leaders also capitalized on the redeeming qualities of cannabis in its many forms.
Perhaps this too was adopted from their Native neighbors, but early colonists were encouraged to grow hemp for “hempen canvas, rope and seed.” In fact a few of America’s founding fathers grew cannabis themselves.
The newly minted nation’s first President, George Washington wrote often about the lucrative value that cannabis possessed. “Make the most you can of hemp by sowing them again in drills!” He wrote in a 1794 letter to William Pierce.
“Let the ground be well prepared, and the seed be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where.” Washington shared how growing cannabis was not always easy in the eighteenth century. “Began to separate the male from female plants rather too late . . . ” he noted in his grow log. “Pulling up the (male) hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month.”
Thomas Jefferson was so eager to grow cannabis,he illegally smuggled hemp seeds from China into France, where hashish was popular at the time. Like Washington, Jefferson improved hemp landraces and even invented a tool for crushing the plants stems during fiber processing.
Even Benjamin Franklin, a major figurehead of the American Enlightenment, was hip to cannabis, and began the first commercial cannabis operation in America, by starting a paper mill using hemp. Thomas Paine’s inspired literature,including the pamphlet “Common Sense,” was printed on that very paper and would stir up the colonists to rebel against the tyrannical British powers.
Independence Day, also referred to as the Fourth of July or July Fourth, is now a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on that fateful day, July 4, 1776. The Continental Congress declared that the thirteen American colonies regarded themselves as a new nation, the United States of America, and were no longer part of the British Empire.
Independence Day is commonly associated with fireworks, parades, barbecues, baseball games and family picnics as well as political speeches and ceremonies. In addition to various other public and private events celebrating the history, government, and traditions of the United States. Independence Day is the National Day of the United States, but few know the long history of cannabis in America.
George Washington, the American soldier and statesman who served from 1789 to 1797 as the first President of the United States, was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and presided over the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Washington was born to a family of prosperous planters among the colonial Virginia gentry. His education was basic, but growing was in his DNA.
He was chosen to lead the Constitutional Convention in 1787 which devised the new Federal government. Admired for his strong nationalist leadership qualities, he was then unanimously elected as President by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. Once elected President, he became even more serious about cultivating cannabis.
In The Gardeners Dictionary, the international encyclopedia of agriculture and plants that Washington kept in his Mount Vernon library, the hemp strain “Cannabis sativa”was also called “Manured Hemp.” Not a very appealing name. But that was the industrial strain of hemp Washington grew.
The book states it was “propagated for its Bark, which is useful for Cordage, Cloth, etc., and the Seeds afford an Oil, which is used in Medicine.” It also mentioned two seasonal “Pulling” times which correspond with Washington’s diary notes. The column ends with a description of hemp-growing bounties paid to “British colonies in North America” and why hemp was important to the naval security of Great Britain.
Hemp in colonial North America was of economic and strategic importance and was seen as such a crucial substance that even John Adams mentions its priority ahead of a “Declaration of Independency.” While Adams was traveling back to Philadelphia in late January 1776, he wrote himself a “to do” list of things to handle in the Continental Congress. He wrote the list on two sheets of paper in his diary.
The list started off with “The Confederation to be taken up …” followed by the second item “An Alliance to be formed with France and Spain.” Only a few items down on that same first page he wrote “Hemp to be encouraged and the Manufacture of Duck. On the second page, the second-below-the-bottom item was “Declaration of Independency …”
Like the nation’s first president, the United States of America’s fourth president (James Madison) and “Father of the Constitution” was heard to say that smoking hemp inspired him to found a new nation based on Democratic principles.
So were America’s Founding Fathers all a bunch of stoners? Hard to tell, but one thing is clear, many of the Founding Fathers would, today, be in prison for the possession, cultivation and distribution of hemp. Marijuana remains illegal in the U.S. but continued federal prohibition hasn’t stopped the industry from growing like a weed. Pun intended.
In spite of what could be considered an unfriendly administration in Washington D.C., nine states and the District of Columbia now allow for recreational marijuana use and 30 (including New Mexico), allow for medical use. And more states are lining up to join the legalization wave. Pot has become big business in the U.S.
The emerging industry took in nearly $9 billion in sales in 2017. According to one study conducted at a California university, sales are equivalent to the entire snack bar industry! With California now in the game, the same study estimates that national marijuana sales will rise to $11 billion in 2018, and to $21 billion in 2021.
I imagine the Founding Fathers would be very pleased with this turn of events. The times they are a’changing!
Happy Independence Day everyone, be safe and be careful.
Editor’s note: All strains of cannabis (including hemp), were referred to as “hemp” during that era. Clearly, if the seeds Jefferson smuggled were also being used to make hash in Europe, they were not just cbd strains…There was an indigenous species known to Native Americans called Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum), but the cannabis most often cultivated in the colonies was an introduced species, Cannabis sativa.
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