The Surprising History of Marijuana in America

In some ways it is impossible to look at history without applying our own lenses and filters from the modern day world. We assume that aspects of our lives today are shared with all humans from the past, but often, and in many surprising instances, this is not the case. John Hudak’s book Marijuana: A Short History has some great examples with the history of marijuana.

 

Before having read Hudak’s book, I hadn’t given much  thought to the long history of marijuana in the United States. I had imagined that native peoples in the Americas had probably used the plant for recreational or spiritual purposes, but I never had any evidence to support that idea and it was probably just a poor stereotype I developed from pop culture. I had never suspected that the plant had a long history in the American Colonies and in the history of our nation. It was always easy for me to assume that marijuana use has always been illegal or at least frowned upon.

 

Hudak’s book shows how much our views toward marijuana have changed throughout our nation’s history. In the last 10 years American’s have become much less hostile to marijuana, and I’m writing this from Nevada, where we legalized marijuana a few years back and have had received millions in taxes from sale and cultivation (see page 56). This follows decades of treating marijuana as a dangerous drug used by criminals that lead to even worse drug use. But even further back in American history, marijuana was viewed much more favorably, and in some instances, was even a required crop for farmers to grow.

 

“Hemp was a critical crop in the colonies, and some of America’s most revered historical figures … have had an outsized impact on production,” writes Hudak. “In Jamestown, Virginia, growing cannabis for hemp-based products was mandated by the British Crown. … George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were well-known, successful hemp farmers … In Massachusetts, John Adams, too, grew hemp, writing (under a pseudonym) of hemp’s mind-altering capabilities.”

 

I would never have suspected that our founding fathers would have grown marijuana to produce hemp products and for recreational use as indicated by President Adams. Drug policy, as I wrote about in my last post, is not as objective and rational as we would think. How we treat drug use and what we consider acceptable and not acceptable changes with public opinion, propaganda efforts, and cultural attitudes. History shows us that what we consider normal today has not been the norm forever, and viewing history though our lenses and filters of the modern world can leave us very surprised when history doesn’t want to accord to our standards and expectations.

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