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Thomas Jefferson: President, Founding Father, Hemp Pioneer

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Before becoming the third U.S. president, Thomas Jefferson — who was born 274 years ago this week — was an industrial hemp cultivator, growing acres of marijuana’s non-psychoactive cousin on his Monticello plantation.

Jefferson wrote extensively about best cultivation practices for hemp during his life, he invented a tool to improve hemp harvesting, and he even left us with a statement on hemp that has become a rallying cry for the movement to legalize hemp, which was prohibited along with marijuana back in 1937.

Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and protection of the country,” Jefferson once reportedly said. That’s because it was used to make rope, sails and other textiles that were essential for keeping colonial America’s navy afloat. 

And Jefferson wasn’t the only commander-in-chief to cultivate hemp. President George Washington also grew acres of it at Mount Vernon. And he referred to cultivation practices over 90 times in his personal diaries.

I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the St. foin seed, and that of the India Hemp,” Washington wrote in 1794. Make the most you can of both, by sowing them again in drills… Let the ground be well prepared, and the Seed [St. foin] be sown in April. The Hemp may be sown any where.”

Ironically, both Washington and Jefferson would be arrested today if they were caught growing hemp in one of the 20 states where it is still illegal. Those include Texas, Florida and New Jersey. But their home state of Virginia legalized hemp cultivation back in 2015, so they would still be allowed to grow it in Mount Vernon and Monticello — unless Attorney General Jeff Sessions raided them for defying federal cannabis prohibition.

And if anything sums up just how absurd America’s cannabis laws are, it would be the sight of two founding fathers getting cuffed and hauled away by DEA agents for growing a harmless plant.

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