History, not Mis-story
Mar 21, 2019 06:38PM
Rumors have swirled for years across the cannabis-consuming classes that the earliest presidents George Washington, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, and of course, Thomas Jefferson were proud hemp smokers.
Most armchair pot-history buffs will remind anyone within earshot that cannabis hemp was collected as legal tender for taxation in most of the British colonies from 1631 until the early 1800s. Putting a pin in just how true the stories of George and Martha Washington blazing freely actually are, it’s worth spending a few moments touching on the role our third president and founding father Jefferson had in the hemp game.
As maven of our nation’s nascent hemp industry, Jefferson made clear his thoughts on the miracle crop in The Great Book of Hemp: “Hemp is of first necessity to the commerce and marine, in other words to the wealth and protection of the country.” He also filed one of the first US patents for a vastly improved hemp-threshing machine.
One should also be familiar with Jefferson’s diplomatic missions to France and England. From August 1784 to September 1789, Jefferson served as commissioner, minister, and finally ambassador to England and France on behalf of our new independent nation. Jefferson expanded his worldview in the salons and elegant social life of Paris, stimulating him to “say and do and write remarkable things,” Douglas Wilson and Lucia Stanton wrote in Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson Abroad, a tome comprised of letters and documents written during the half decade Jefferson spent in Paris as minister to Louis XVI’s court.
In a 1787 letter to Edward Rutledge, governor of South Carolina and the youngest signatory of the US Declaration of Independence, Jefferson wrote about the challenges of smuggling rice (in the face of a law prohibiting the action under pain of death) “I could only bring off as much as my coat and surtout pockets would hold” and made arrangements with a muleteer to smuggle more to Genoa.
It was in France that TJ took up the habit of smoking hemp and hashish, and there has been a long swirling inference and legend that Jefferson smuggled hemp seeds himself. In Jack Herer’s landmark book on the history of cannabis, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, Herer wrote about the backchannel Jefferson supposedly used to move the hemp seeds to the United States: “Jefferson…went to great expense and even considerable risk to himself and his secret agents to procure particularly good hempseeds smuggled illegally into Turkey from China. The Chinese Mandarins so valued their hempseed that they made its exportation a capital offense.”
Ultimately, the maxim “radicalism in defense of liberty is not a vice” truly applied to Jefferson, and given what we know about Jefferson’s wont to thumb his nose at authority in the name of independence, as well as his documented rice smuggling, it’s not hard to conclude procuring choice hemp seeds would be high on Jefferson’s worth-the-risk meter. Can’t blame him.