Marijuana in the New World
The first definite record of the marijuana plant in the New World dates from 1545 AD, when the Spaniards introduced it into Chile. It has been suggested, however, that African slaves familiar with marijuana as an intoxicant and medicine brought the seeds with them to Brazil even earlier in the sixteenth century. There is no record that the Pilgrims brought marijuana with them to Plymouth but the Jamestown settlers did bring the plant to Virginia in 1611, and cultivated it for its fiber. Marijuana was introduced into New England in 1629. From then until after the Civil War, the marijuana plant was a major crop in North America, and played an important role in both colonial and national economic policy. In 1762, Virginia awarded bounties for hemp culture and manufacture, and imposed penalties upon those who did not produce it. George Washington was growing hemp at Mount Vernon three years later-presumably for its fiber, though it has been argued that Washington was also concerned to increase the medicinal or intoxicating potency of his marijuana plants.*
*The argument depends on a curious tradition, which may or may not be sound, that the quality or quantity of marijuana resin (hashish) is enhanced if the male and female plants are separated before the females are pollinated. There can be no doubt that Washington separated the males from the females. Two entries in his diary supply the evidence:
May 12-13, 1765: “Sowed Hemp at Muddy hole by Swamp.”
August 7, 1765: `-began to separate sic the Male from the Female Hemp at Do- rather too late.”
George Andrews has argued, in The Book of Grass: An Anthology of Indian Hemp (1967), that Washington’s August 7 diary entry “clearly indicates that he was cultivating the plant for medicinal purposes as well as for it’s fiber.” -, He might have separated the males from the females to get better fiber, Andrews concedes-but his phrase “rather too late” suggests that he wanted to complete the separation before the female plants were fertilized-and this was a practice related to drug potency rather than to fiber culture.
British mercantile policy hampered American hemp culture for a time during and after the colonial period by offering heavy bounties on hemp exported from Ireland; but the American plantings continued despite this subsidized competition. At various times in the nineteenth century large hemp plantations flourished in Mississippi, Georgia, California, South Carolina, Nebraska, and other states, as well as on Staten Island, New York. The center of nineteenth-century production, however, was in Kentucky, where hemp was introduced in 1775. One Kentuckian, James L. Allen, wrote in 1900: “The Anglo-Saxon farmers had scarce conquered foothold in the Western wilderness before they became sowers of hemp. The roads of Kentucky . . . were early made necessary by the hauling of hemp. For the sake of it slaves were perpetually being trained, hired, bartered; lands perpetually rented and sold; fortunes made and lost…. With the Civil War began the decline, lasting still.” The invention of the cotton gin and of other cotton and wool machinery, and competition from cheap imported hemp, were major factors in this decline in United States hemp cultivation.
The decline in commercial production did not, however, mean that marijuana became scarce. As late as 1937, the American commercial crop was still estimated at 10,000 acres, much of it in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Kentucky. Four million pounds of marijuana seed a year were being used in bird feed. During World War II commercial cultivation was greatly expanded, at the behest of the United States Department of Agriculture, to meet the shortage of imported hemp for rope. Even decades after commercial cultivation has been discontinued, hemp can often be found growing luxuriantly as a weed in abandoned fields and along roadsides. Indeed, the plant readily spreads to additional territory. The area of Nebraska land infested with “weed” marijuana was estimated in 1969 at 156,000 acres. *
* One acre of good land yields about one thousand pounds of marijuana, enough for almost one million marijuana cigarettes.
The medicinal use of marijuana in the United States. It has often been alleged that American marijuana, cultivated primarily as a fiber,