Cannabis in American History – Part 2: Cannabis Indica

PART 2: INDICA   

  • Indian hemp is a drug plant native to India and the Middle East with a deep history in world religion and long rejected by Christian Europe (where it did not grow). In contrast,  Arab culture rejected alcohol but accepted cannabis.
  • Ganja is the traditional name for the psychoactive flowers, and is a conjugate of the Ganges River, the spiritual home of cannabis and of Shiva, the Hindu deity most closely associated with cannabis.
  • Hashish, a solid waxy preparation made from the cannabis oils, is a traditional method of preparing cannabis for storage and trade, ganja flowers don’t hold up well and were not suitable for long distance trade in the ancient world.
  • Cannabis Indica has proliferated through Asian subcontinent and Africa since ancient times, but it is not until the advent of European colonial trade in the 1700-1800’s that Indica travels to the Americas where it spread among multiple pathways.
  • The New World, in turn, introduced the Old World to the practice of smoking tobacco in pipes. Pipes were rare in the ancient world, but as tobacco spread around the world and gained popularity in the 1600-1700’s, it was mixed readily with cannabis. The practice of smoking ganja and hash in pipes and cigarette papers is a practice adopted from tobacco during the colonial era and greatly elevated the popularity of cannabis.
  • SLAVE TRADE
  • There are reports that Portugese slave tracers brought slaves and cannabis from Angola to Brazil in the 1600’s. (see Barney Warf)
  • FRENCH HASHISH BAN
  • 1800 – Napoleon Bonaparte’s army in Egypt bans hashish, often considered the first modern anti-drug law. This is partly urban legend, it is true that the French colonial army did ban hashish in Egypt, but Napoleon was not personally involved and may not have even known about it, Napoleon had already left Egypt and was in Paris plotting his rise to power. The ban order was issued by a French General who had converted to Islam and was working the local Sunni Islamic clerical leaders who prohibited all intoxicants (then same as today). – The Real History of France’s First Anti-Drug Law, David Guba, Aug. 9, 2016.
  • Returning French soldiers would bring their hashish experience back to France.
  • GEORGE WASHINGTON
  • 1794-1796 – During his Presidency, George Washington, a lifelong hemp farmer was growing India Hemp at his Mount Vernon plantation. Though Washington was busy being President, he wrote many letters to his gardener who oversaw the plantation, and repeatedly discussed the India Hemp.
  • “What was done with the Seed saved from the India Hemp last Summer? It ought, all of it, to have been sown again; that not only a stock of seed sufficient for my own purposes might have been raised, but to have dissiminated the seed to others; as it is more valuable than the common Hemp.” Washington to William Pearce, May 29, 1796
  • (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-00559)
  • Was George Washington growing Indica? We don’t know for sure. There are two main choices for the identity of the India Hemp, it was likely either cannabis indica, or else it was jute, a fiber crop native to India that was also called Indian Hemp.
  • Jute fibers were new to western Europe in this time period, but the fibers were an Indian export and Jute was never cultivated commercially outside of Asia.
  • Cannabis Indica was formally named by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1785.
  • Washington was a worldly and learned man, extremely wealthy, famous, and well connected. It is conceivable that someone personally introduced him to India hemp, and as a passionate and inventive farmer fond of fiber hemp Washington would surely have been curious about it.
  • If George Washington was growing Indica it would arguably make him the first American to grow it, he was thirty years ahead of O’Shaughnessy in India, and fifty years ahead of the public.
  • Washington’s quotes about India hemp are intriguing but inconclusive. Rumors and urban legends of the Founding Fathers smoking hemp commonly are not true. Cannabis Indica was unknown to the colonial American public, and any imported Indica seeds would have been an exotic curiosity at that time. 
  • MEDICINE
  • Irish physician William Brooke O’Shaughnessy working in India conducted a series of experiments with cannabis in the 1830s, and concluded it had no negative medicinal effects. He went on to write the definitive 19th-century account of the drug, the Bengal Dispensatory and Companion to the Pharmacopoeia in 1842, dispelling many earlier misgivings and having wide influence for the next half-century. – Barney Warf
  • Cannabis entered the US. Pharmacopeia in 1850 and is established as a common and popular medicine by the 1880’s.
  • Late 1800’s, US pharma firms cultivate their own indica crops domestically, which they call Cannabis Americana. “As fine as the best Indian Hemp”.
  • Landrace varieties take root in multiple locations throughout the southern latitudes.
  • BRITISH
  • British trade and immigration from India helped spread cannabis in the 1800’s.
  • Jamaica was a British colony with large sugar plantations. Slavery in Jamaica was abolished in 1834 and the labor was replaced with indentured laborers from India who brought indica and ganja culture with them. The British encouraged the production of cannabis indica to pacify the laborers. Ganja culture took firm root in Jamaica in the 1800’s ultimately finding expression in the Rastafarian ganja-infused religion in the 1900’s.
  • Cannabis was also a source of British imperial income. Mindful of the vast profits yielded from the opium trade, the British, finding themselves astride the world’s largest market for drugs, taxed Indian cannabis heavily. From 1793 to the 1850s, the British East India Company happily derived a steady stream of revenues from taxing cannabis, granting licenses to retailers and wholesalers and caring little about how much was consumed. Bengal became a major exporter throughout India and other parts of the Empire. In some provinces, distributors were required to store their crop in government-owned warehouses. – Barney Warf
  • Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report – 1895
  • HASHISH LITERATURE
  • Fitz Hugh Ludlow, publishes, “The Hasheesh Eater” in 1857, tales of his experiments with Tilden’s Extract, a pharmacy product.
  • In Paris, the Club des Hachichins included Charles Baudelaire, Gustav Flaubert, Alexandre Dumas, and Honore de Balzac. The club was active from about 1844 to 1849 and counted the literary and intellectual elite of Paris among its members.
  • 1857- On the Haschisch or Cannabis Indica John Bell, M.D. The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 16 April 1857 & 23 April 1857
  • 1883 – A Hashish-House in New York By H. H. Kane, Harper’s Monthly, Vol. 67 (November, 1883)
  • MUSIC & CULTURE
  • Ganja is traded by ship from the Caribbean to US port cities around 1900.
  • An important spot is New Orleans where black musicians smoking cannabis in the red light district of Storyville invent jazz music (Louis Armstrong).
  • Traveling jazz musicians spread weed culture through the first half of the century through major American cities.
  • Cannabis’s ancient connections to religion, sexuality, and music continue through modern popular culture.
  • Mezz Mezzrow quotes
  • Louis Armstrong quote
  • White beatniks in the 1950’s listening to jazz music pick up on weed.
  • Allen Ginsburg and friends Jack Kerouac and Neil Cassady are the vanguard of educated middle-class whites smoking marijuana in late 1940’s and 50’s. Ginsburg is first prominent marijuana activists, is monitored by FBI.
  • Bob Dylan passes their first joint to the Beatles in NYC 1965, symbolizing the moment when all of rock and roll turns on and transforms.
  • The counterculture of the 1960’s is steeped in sex and marijuana and rejection of conservative religious morality, and sparks a culture war.
  • Music connection continues directly into Hip-Hop, meaning all three of the major US music forms are directly fueled by cannabis.
  • RASTAFARI
  • Rastafarians are a religious community in Jamaica that uses ganja sacramentally. The Rastafarians trace their heritage as a lost tribe of Old Testament Israel, and they claim widespread presence of cannabis in Old Testament history.
  • Ras Tafari is an honorific applied to Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974. The Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie to be Jesus incarnate, though Selassie never made these claims himself.
  • As Emperor of Ethiopia, Selassie was the last African Royal, and was treated as an equal to European royalty throughout his life. Selassie was a significant figure in third world politics during the 20th century. The Ethiopan traced their heritage to the Queen of Sheba, an African Queen from the Old Testament, who may have had a child with King Solomon who constructed the first Hebrew temple in Jerusalem in 950 BC. The Ethiopans claim to be the descendants of Solomon and Sheba, though the Bible does not specify if they actually had a child, so the claims are disputed. Selassie and the Ethiopan monarchy were overthrown by a military coup in 1974.
  • BOB MARLEY
  • Legendary Reggae musician Bob Marley is the most famous Rastafarian and public proponent of ganja. Bob Marley brought reggae music and the Rastafarian to the whole world.
  • Bob Marley is the most beloved artist whose identity is completely wrapped up tight with cannabis. Probably more than any other famous artist, Bob Marley spread images of cannabis leaves, and openly celebrated both the beauty and joy of cannabis, and also the righteous indignation and rebellion against unholy cannabis prohibition laws.
  • ISRAEL
  • Raphael Mecholoum and his team of research scientists in the holy land, Israel, identify and discover THC, CBD, and the endocannabinoid system, starting in the 1960’s, launching modern scientific research into cannabis medicines.