How hemp became illegal in America…

You may have already heard that even George Washington was growing and using hemp. This isn’t just an urban legend: a diary entry from 1765 notes that he was separating male and female hemp plants. However, it was unlikely that he was cultivating them for their psychoactive properties. Rather, Washington was probably discarding the female plants in favour of the fibrous male plants, which could be used for a variety of purposes. [i]

Hemp was introduced to North America by early colonisers, and apparently even the sails, caulking, and rigging of the Mayflower were made from hemp. As a resilient and adaptable plant, it was a vital cash crop in America’s nascent history, and was used to make fabric, paper, and rope. Hemp was so important that in 1762, Virginia “imposed penalties on those who did not produce it.” [ii] It’s incredible to think that, at one stage, it was actually illegal to not grow hemp.

As cotton became the favoured crop for fabrics and clothing, cannabis took on new uses. By the 1800s, it was a popular medicine for numerous ailments – including pain management, lack of sleep or appetite, gout, rheumatism, cholera, convulsions, and (strangely enough) hydrophobia.[iii] Unlike opium, which was also a common medicine at the time, cannabis tinctures were celebrated for not suppressing patients’ appetites or causing constipation.

Medicinal cannabis was so commonplace that it was even used to treat animals – most notably horses, including those in the US Cavalry.

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