Weed In The White House: An Overview Of Hemp, Marijuana And The Presidency

This article was originally published on HoneySuckle Magazine and appears here with permission.

George Washington. Christopher Columbus. William Shakespeare. Joan of Arc. Thomas Jefferson.

What do these behemoths of human history have in common? All were rumored to have smoked weed at some point or another, and they aren’t alone. Numerous past celebrities have been cited for doing the same, but not all of these claims have factual footing. Some are true; others are speculation, lacking enough evidence to be conclusive; and still, more are outright fabrications. In honor of President’s Week, we’ll be scrutinizing the reefer rumors surrounding those who have sat in the Oval Office, as well as the Executives who may have imbibed before the Oval Office even existed.

Distinctions and Blurred Lines

The farther back in history we go, the more difficult it becomes to substantiate or dismiss allegations. Language is ambiguous, evidence is scarce, and primary sources are gone. Yet one common point of confusion can be identified as the source of many early rumors. The hemp plant, almost identical to marijuana through layman’s eyes, was wildly popular in the ancient world and remained so until the 20th century.

Almost every landowner in colonial America farmed hemp. At the same time, those who didn’t grow it found themselves wearing it after the Revolutionary War. In 17th-century Britain, hemp was an antidepressant and a treatment for opium withdrawal. Paper was made from it, as well as ship sails and rope. Countless letters and journal entries discuss farming, trading, and smoking hemp. Hemp, however, is not marijuana. It’s a plant with different properties and different applications. As its prevalence waned in the modern world, misunderstanding began to surround it, giving rise to rumors.

Difference Between Hemp and

Though a third of Americans believe they’re synonyms, hemp and are actually two separate plants in a family called Cannabis sativa. Both contain the cannabinoids CBD and THC, but marijuana contains them in much higher quantities than those found in the hemp plant. Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, is the psychoactive compound responsible for the “high” associated with marijuana use. In hemp, THC has a potency of less than 0.3%. In contrast, THC levels in marijuana range between 6% and 20%, making hemp products ineffectual for use as a psychedelic. Cannabidiol (CBD) does not contain THC or possess any psychoactive properties but has been shown to affect anxiety levels, appetite, and more. Despite containing lower levels of CBD than its sister plant, hemp has potent medicinal powers. It is the source of commercially available CBD products.

What is Hemp?

Hemp, sometimes referred to as ‘industrial hemp,’ was first cultivated in Central Asia before being introduced to Africa and Europe. The plant is hearty and can grow in a number of climates, making it an ideal candidate for botanical superstardom. When processed, hemp stalks create fibers that are almost six feet long and highly durable. The first known record of hemp farming comes from China in the eighth century B.C.E. when it was used to produce fiber.

This has been the plant’s chief use up until the present day. Now, hemp is used to make dairy alternatives, bioplastics, and an incalculable variety of CBD products.

History of Hemp in Colonial America

Hemp arrived in the ‘New World’ at the beginning of the 16th century. Its cultivation began in Chile before spreading northwards to the American colonies. Hemp seeds were taken to America with some of the first groups of colonial settlers, including the most famous. The Puritans, though poorly stocked with food on the Mayflower, were well-supplied with hemp. The plant’s fibers made …

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