Monday, February 16, 2015

Pumping the Presidents with Pot: A New February Tradition

Happy Presidents Day!

As many of us get a Monday off in honor of the country's most esteemed caretakers (or maybe because we live somewhere in the one-half of the country that is currently being blanketed by snow and/or ice), some members of the pro-cannabis crowd take Presidents Day as an opportunity to remind Americans just how friendly our founders were toward their highly esteemed herb.

Today, the Facebook page "MJ Headline News" dropped one of these unfailingly misleading "historical" nuggets onto my news feed:

"Did George Washington Use Medical Marijuana?"

Look, a totally legit eighteenth-century portrait!
The original article at the Daily Beast notes:
George Washington’s rotting teeth and the dentures that replaced them—made of hippopotamus ivory, gold springs, and brass screws—caused enormous pain, which some believe he alleviated with weed as evidenced from a passage from one of the president’s letters:
“Began to separate the male from female plants rather too late...Pulling up the (male) hemp. Was too late for the blossom hemp by three weeks or a month."
To the dismay of weed enthusiasts, however, the article's headline question is answered in the next paragraph:
However, it’s most likely that the female plants he refers to were used for seeds to grow more hemp and the male hemp plants were pulled up for fibers.

Daily Beast writer Nick Sheppard's conclusions seem to be the ones that most historians come to.

Cannabis prohibition in the United States has produced some peculiar cultural side effects; one of them is the urgent desire for many cannabis enthusiasts, in an attempt to legitimate their own movement and cultivate a more favorable public perception of the plant, to re-interpret or exaggerate the relationships that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and other popular "Founding Fathers" had with cannabis.

Other examples of this reactionary myth-building include:

-The half-true notion that both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper; it is more likely that drafts of both documents were scrawled on hemp paper.

-The utterly bogus claim that "James Madison was once heard to say that smoking hemp inspired him to found a new nation on democratic principles." (I think we can all agree that "was once heard to say" is not proper historical documentation)

-Claims that Jefferson and Washington exchanged "smoking blends as personal gifts." This assertion and the previous one apparently come all the way from 1975, in a fabricated article in the pagan magazine Green Egg. (Here's a link to the magazine's current digital iteration - WARNING: Content is extremely hippie. Avoid clicking link if you hate hippies)

To the movement's credit, there are those among its ranks who actively decry and objectively evaluate these historical stoner fantasies, but misinformation persists nonetheless, especially within the broader cannabis culture.

Personally, I know these myths are simply an overreaction to prohibitionist rhetoric (which, like all propaganda, also bends the facts), and find them more amusing than irritating. That pic of Washington smoking a J is priceless - can someone please doctor all the presidential portraits in a similar fashion?

Plus, I don't think the story of George Washington and other founders growing hemp needs exaggeration to be politically effective. After all, simply pointing out that the first framers of our government found considerable value in the cannabis plant already makes the point that more modern framers of government perhaps overreacted when they declared the plant to be utterly useless and dangerous via the 1970 Controlled Substances Act.

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