Fourth of July evokes memories of fireworks, BBQs, outdoor celebrations, and, of course, our Founding Fathers. But it’s a little known fact: Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin not only had a fascination with hemp, but also believed in its potential to help their new democracy flourish. Before we explore their views, here’s a little refresher.
What Is Hemp?
Unlike its cousin cannabis, hemp contains extremely minimal amounts of the psychotropic compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), no more than 0.3%, to comply with federal law. Industrial hemp production increased significantly after the passing of 2018’s Farm Bill, which removed it from the list of Schedule I drugs and legalized its production. These days we use hemp to make foods, beverages, clothing, jewelry, creams, and fuel.
Colorado, Kentucky, and Oregon have the country’s highest hemp production; the Founding Fathers’ home states of Virginia and Maryland also allow hemp cultivation, though presently don’t have large farming communities.
A Brief History of Hemp
While records of cannabis use in China date back around 2,000 years, hemp use has been around about 10,000 years since it was the first plant to be cultivated for textile fiber. Ancient cultures grew it to make practically everything essential to daily life: clothing, rope, housing materials, and food. Ancient artifacts discovered across the globe prove this. The Chinese created paper from hemp, the Mesopotamians used it to craft clothes, and Christopher Columbus relied on it to supply his ships with sails and ropes.
The Jamestown colony was the first place in the U.S. to grow hemp. During this country’s early years, hemp was extremely popular and was grown in almost every state as a cash crop for textiles, clothing, and rope materials. However, it was eventually overshadowed by the cotton industry as it was considered more cost-efficient. After a long reprise, hemp is now finally back in fashion.
The Founding Fathers’ Belief in Hemp
Many of the Founding Fathers were big fans of hemp. Some grew it because of its popularity as a cash crop; others believed in its medicinal properties and sturdy fiber to produce clothing and textiles. Where did each man stand concerning hemp? Let’s take a look.
Our first president, George Washington, grew hemp as a cash crop. At the time, the government allowed farmers to pay their taxes with hemp. Washington fully took advantage of this by growing hemp on all five of his farms on Mount Vernon.
POTUS #3 was an avid hemp grower as well. He discussed it in great detail in his appropriately titled, “Farm Book.” Jefferson saw hemp as a useful crop for manufacturing clothing, rope, sailcloth and paper. He grew it, along with cotton and flax, on his Monticello plantation; plus, he held a patent for a hemp processing machine!
The fourth commander-in-chief James Madison grew hemp and enjoyed discussing it with Jefferson in their written correspondence. There are even anecdotal accounts of Madison smoking hemp but, sadly, this isn’t easy to verify. Too bad he didn’t have the premium cannabis flower we do today.
Renaissance man Ben Franklin owned and operated a hemp paper mill that processed it into parchment paper, making him the first commercial hemp distributor in America. This paper was used to draft several crucial documents like The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Federalist Papers. Our republic is literally founded on hemp.
Hemp vs. Cannabis Today
Currently, hemp has a somewhat conflicting reputation in the United States. Because its mainstream production is recent, there’s still a stigma surrounding the plant. Some continue to view hemp as a drug closely related to marijuana, even one-in-the-same, while others understand its potential healing benefits and profitability.
Hemp CBD (cannabidiol), in particular, has become popular over the last few years. There is both medical research and anecdotal evidence promoting its potential benefits. CBD tinctures, topicals and edibles could be helpful in boosting our immune system and relieving anxiety, pain, and inflammation.
Meanwhile, marijuana CBD is molecularly identical to hemp CBD yet falls under different regulations because of cannabis’ psychoactive properties. Thus, it’s less accessible and we know less about it. Luckily, because of the growing popularity of hemp and cannabis, many states are starting to ease restrictions on medicinal and recreational use.
The Future of Cannabis in the United States
While hemp production thrives in states like Kentucky, home of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the current administration maintains a firm stance against the cannabis industry. But, like our Founding Fathers, more Americans are discovering the medical and economic benefits of the cannabis plant. Hopefully with more research, legal restructuring and presidential leadership, cannabis dispensaries and marijuana delivery services will become readily available across the country.
Founding Fathers Fourth of July Special
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