Marijuana History - America
When cannabis is used as a drug, it is called marijuana. When cannabis is used for cloth, paper or rope, it is called hemp. The growing methods for the two uses are different and so hemp normally has a very low quantity of the intoxicant THC.
As the American colonies were founded and grew, hemp was an important crop. As in Europe, clothes were often made out of hemp. Ropes made of hemp were needed for America’s commercial and defense ships. Hemp was also used to make oakum - twisted and tarred hemp fibers that were pounded in between the boards of a ship as waterproofing.
Enormous amounts of hemp were needed for one large sailing ship. A letter from 1797 documented the need for 50 tons of hemp for the USS Constitution.
When fabric imports from England were cut off by America’s independence, cloth made from American hemp became far more important. The American colonists also had flax (linen) and wool but cotton had to come from the West Indies in the early days. Hemp, on the other hand, could be grown as far north as New England.
Both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were hemp farmers, perhaps not successful ones. Betsy Ross’s prototype American flag was made from hemp fibers. The paper used for the Declaration of Independence was also made from hemp fibers.
There was more demand for hemp for clothing and paper than could be supplied in the early years. Much of the American hemp was not considered to be of high enough quality for shipbuilding. One of the reasons for this was the American method of processing the fibers was cheaper but resulted in a less durable product.
In the 1800s, America was, therefore, importing high-quality hemp for ship rigging from Russia, as the English had done. Some hemp was imported from Italy, as well. Finally, comparison tests (using the USS Constitution) showed that American hemp was approximately as durable as Russian hemp. Documents from that time period discuss the challenge of getting American farmers to use the same processing methods as the Russians, which would result in an improved product. At this time, much of the hemp was grown in Kentucky or Virginia.
Durable clothing and other items continued to be made from hemp as Americans headed west. Early blue jeans worn by miners panning for gold were made of hemp and the fabric for covered wagons that crossed the prairies were also made from hemp fiber.
When cotton did begin to be farmed in America, it was so labor-intensive to process that it did not begin to be popular until the invention of the cotton gin. In the early 1800s, this machine spread in popularity, and so did cotton as a crop, replacing hemp to some degree.
In the late 1800s, cannabis began to be used medicinally in America, as it had been used in other countries for thousands of years. There were no legal issues with using cannabis extracts in this way until well into the Twentieth Century.
Medicines that contained cannabis extracts:
- Bromidia: Cannabis and chloral hydrate, a hypnotic for “restlessness.”
- From Squibb, Zinc phosphide and cannabis pills: They also contained strychnine and sodium arsenite (a form of arsenic); chocolate coated, for “neuralgia, sciatica, and spasmodic pains generally.”
- Da-Ka-Ta: Medication for corns on the feet.
- Dr. Macalister’s Cough Mixture: Cannabis, chloroform, and alcohol, for children and adults. “A safe and sure remedy.”
- Neuralgic pills: Main contents opium and cannabis.
- Chlorodyne: Morphine, cannabis, and nitroglycerin.
After the Mexican revolution in 1910, many Mexican immigrants made their way into the United States and brought recreational marijuana usage with them. The reaction to this uncontrolled immigration initiated some of the first legal attacks on marijuana. In 1913, California was the first state to quietly outlaw cannabis consumption.