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Cannabis sativa is one of the first known plant types to be cultivated and collected by humans. Scholars and historians have discovered that nearly every civilization used the cannabis plant for medicinal purposes, from Mesopotamia to India and Egypt; from Europe and Africa to the New World. The English Empire was familiar with hemp cultivation, and brought that same knowledge of cannabis culture to English settlements in Massachusetts and Virginia.

Although we don’t have significant evidence to prove that the pilgrims brought cannabis to Plymouth, it is interesting to note that the 17th century marked the golden age for Dutch and English hemp, and many pilgrims arrived from England and Holland.

Scholars note that in 1611, the Jamestown colony in Virginia received an edict from King James I to cultivate hemp. Nearly eight years later, the Virginia government allotted a large portion of their budget to bring in hemp experts from Sweden and Poland to teach best growing practices to local farmers.


Historian accounts of hemp cultivation in colonial New England vary, but evidence suggests that cannabis was very much engrained in colonial culture. In 1929, a documented shipment of hemp seeds arrived in Salem; hemp was widely used for textile production. In 1635, Salem colonists built America’s first hemp rope factory. Hemp soon proved itself to be one of colonial America’s most lucrative resources, and became an agricultural commodity and object of trade. It is widely believed that Native Americans smoked marijuana in ceremonial pipes, but most Native Americans actually smoked tobacco.

There is reason to believe that cannabis was introduced to Native Americans by New England colonists.However, it is important to understand that a clear distinction exists between cannabis sativa L—hemp—and the cannabis plant we smoke today. Cannabis sativa L contains a minute percentage of THC, and does not provide the same psychoactive effects that we receive from the cannabis variety grown today. Medicinal use of marijuana did not become widely accepted until the 19th century. So, while the New England colonists probably did not smoke marijuana in the sense that we know it today, cannabis was still a prominent part of their culture.

Source: Dean Christopher

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