Posted March 24, 2013 by evergreen-culture in Advocacy

Just Admit It…Old George Got Lifted


ere in Washington state we are partial to George Washington obviously. We think that it is only fitting that some major progress in the war on hemp took place in the state that bears his namesake.

Before we talk about the idea of our founding fathers (the idols of many a modern-day “conservative” American) within the context of the prohibition of cannabis, we first need to get some nomenclature cleared up. Today we speak of two different plants when we speak of hemp and cannabis (or marijuana), but this is a historical look at marijuana, and so you must keep in mind that when you read or hear the word “hemp” in a context prior to the late 19th century, it can be used either in relation to industrial hemp or, the more medicinally potent marijuana plant. But the tricky part is the word cannabis is technically the name of both – since they are both scientifically classified as cannabis sativa. The word “marijuana” was not in use until the early part of the 20th century in the US, and thus all types of cannabis were referred to as “hemp”.

The word cannabis is most often understood to likely come from Scythian or semitic origins that combine the words for “two” and “stalk” (it is likely that our word “cane” comes from a similar root that “cannabis” is derived from), and most etymologists have determined the meaning to essentially work out to “a stalked plant with two forms”, or “two natures”. The two natures refers to the two sexes of the plant – something we know that mankind has studied and cataloged throughout history through archaeological evidence providing descriptions of cannabis, its cultivation, uses, and importance in human culture. Cannabis sativa reproduces sexually through male plants producing male flowers that fill with and release pollen, and female plants producing flowers having calyxes with feeler-like pistils covered in sticky resin to capture the pollen. When pollen is captured by the sticky resin, this fertilization produces a seed which develops and eventually falls to the ground and generates an entirely new plant that is a genetic mixture of the two parent plants.

Sometime very early in human cultural development, mankind figured out that the female plants could be used for social, religious, ceremonial, and medicinal consumption via oils, smoking the dried blossoms, and the making of balms, infusions, etc. from the resin the females would secrete. And so, while you may hear something like “Don’t’ tell me about the founding fathers and marijuana! George Washington wrote about growing hemp, not marijuana!” as an argument, the problem is that this must be taken in a fuller historical context. George Washington had never even heard the word “marijuana” before. He likely knew  of the official classification of cannabis sativa L. (the L. stands for Linnaeus due to Carolus Linnaeus being the first to classify the plant), which first was published in 1753. The age of reason was in full effect and scientific study and understanding was very important to the framers and founders of the United Sates (if only the legislature was still more concerned with scientific reason than emotion and religious influence). The point is, he didn’t have differing terms for a plant grown for industry versus a plant grown for consumption. He would have planted hemp seeds (which for the most part look identical between the different varieties of cannabis – now classified into three categories, sativa, indica and ruderalis – and at some point he either learned through historical study, communication with other growers of hemp, or through trial and error (possibly some of all those factors) that some of them grew larger flowers and secreted an especially thick and concentrated layer of resin on them. We have his actual writings where he speaks of separating the male plants from some of his female “hemp” plants. This is counterproductive to industrial hemp production. You want the males to pollinate the females. You want seeds for next years crop. It is completely defeating your purpose if you separate male and female plants in an industrial hemp field. The only reason you separate female plants from males it to ensure your female plants spend their energy on creating large, dense flowers with copious resin rather than producing seeds which significantly decreases production of resin and blooms. In other words, George, and many of his fellow early American leaders, smoked cannabis and saw nothing wrong with it. They had no worries stating this in their writings because it is a plant and they understood there is nothing dangerous, illicit or problematic about it.

So, if one of your counter-arguments for repealing cannabis prohibition is that George Washington didn’t feel anything because he was smoking hemp and not marijuana, you need a new one. The fact is, there is a reason they didn’t put language around the right to grow a plant in the Bill of Rights or the Constitution…they simply never would have believed that this “free” country they were founding on reason and rational-thinking would put laws in place against a plant that grew in nature all over the world which served mankind in such a myriad of ways, one from which they themselves benefited both economically, socially and personally.

Click here for a great discussion with two historians on PBS regarding the history of marijuana in America.
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