All over the Western world, people know the name of George Washington. Small children learn about him in history classes at school. At the very least, most have heard his name and know he was somebody important. Die hard American patriots can reel off untold facts and quotes about George Washington but there is one thing not so well known with regards to the first ever US president. The former president and commander-in-chief had a rather unusual and interesting hobby-he grew hemp!
Why is it so strange that George Washington grew hemp? The answer is, there is a major misconception about hemp, a commonly held belief that it is marijuana. In actual fact, hemp originates from the same plant but is used for entirely different purposes than marijuana. In a Forbes article entitled ‘Why Hemp Is Still Controversial In America And A Challenge For Entrepreneurs’, Esha Chhabra, the author writes:
“Hemp, though not marijuana, is often associated with it. While it originates from the same plant, cannabis sativa, hemp does not have significant levels of THC, the ingredient that gives you a high. In fact, hemp has less than .3% of THC; marijuana has anywhere from 10 to 30%.”
Perception is everything, an unfortunate reality for hemp cultivators today. So strong is this confusion over hemp and marijuana that it resulted in a 20 year political struggle between hemp farmers and the DEA. This must not have been the case in circa 1700 America as Washington grew hemp on his Mount Vernon mansion through out his life. Hemp production had a practical purpose for the POTUS and the Washington state. The fibre from hemp was used for making rope and canvas for the sailing industry. It was also used in the repair of sacks and fishing nets.
The History Of Hemp
The record books state that hemp cultivation had its origins in South Central Siberia. Over thousands of years, this practice became established in Europe. The Europeans used hemp for food, medicine and textiles, a practice they would have introduced to the "New World"of North America. The British also relied on hemp for their royal navy ships during the colonial period. It is said that both King Henry VIII & Queen Elizabeth I ordered the production of hemp to bolster the navy. history.org states that
“The emerging prominence of the English navy was the chief reason English farmers and later their American cousins were required to devote a share of their acreage to hemp”
While British colonial rule may have played a part in hemp cultivation in America, that may have led to Britain losing the civil war as Oscar H. Will Ill notes on farmcollector.com
“Where did all of that hemp fibre come from? It came from the cannabis sativa fields of patriotic Revolutionary War-era farmers who originally grew the fibrous crop for the British Crown. Strong fibres formed strong nations in the pre-industrial age, and hemp was strategically important during the Revolutionary War.”