The Surprising History of Marijuana in America

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.

Beyond Our Surface

Writer Steven Stern sent a letter to James Harmon for Harmon to include in his book, Take My Advice.  Stern ends his letter to Harmon with the following quote, “it’s been some solace to me, as I hope it may be to you, to remember that we are at least more than meets the eye.” Stern reaches this point after discussing our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who came to the united states with oftentimes very diverse and unique backgrounds.  In Stern’s words, no matter what we are now, and where we find ourselves, we are all full of backstories and histories that were handed down from our family. His main point is to remember that we are not the social projection of ourselves that society may recognize us as on the surface.

 

Stern’s idea can be very powerful, and for me, it reaches a greater strength when I turn it around and think of other people.  I think that Stern’s viewpoint is an excellent and in many ways necessary first step for us to develop a greater understanding of other people.  In my life, self awareness has helped me reflect on who I am, what parts of myself and my personality I choose to share with the world, and what parts of me are recognized by others even if I do not think the parts that others always recognize are keystone pieces of what makes me the person I am.  Understanding how I fit in these types of societal relationships has allowed me to expand that vision and apply it to other people.

 

Each day that we get out of the house we have an opportunity to see another person and practice this mindset.  It is very easy to look at people and apply general stereotypes and judge them based on their outward appearance.  Taking Stern’s perspective and understanding that we are all more than we appear, allows us to pause before accepting those judgements. Ultimately, it affords us a moment to truly think about the other person.  Seeing the world through their eyes, with the pressures that society has placed on them and how those pressures combine with the advantages or disadvantages of their upbringing can help us greater understand why others act the way they do.  I have found that the more I practice these exercises the more compassionate I become towards other people, especially those less fortunate than me.  I do not chastise myself for the judgmental thoughts that I have towards other people, and I try hard to be aware of those feelings rather than simply ignoring those feelings or pretending they do not exist.  Accepting that when I see other people my first reaction is to judge them as someone I would or would not trust allows me to understand how I am treating them.  I can then take steps to understand my negative (or positive) feelings, and act in a way that treats the other with dignity and equality.