Tainted Intel

Myths of the forbidden flower

Sometimes the cannabis internet seems a bit too much like hanging out with Slater in the movie Dazed and Confused: passionate, but not always on the mark.

By way of example, in one scene, Slater, the most enthusiastic pothead in the film, insists George Washington grew his own weed at Mount Vernon, and that the father of our country was in fact a big stoner.

“He grew it all over the country, man. He had people growin’ it all over the country, you know,” Slater says. “The whole country back then was gettin’ high. Lemme tell you, man, ’cause he knew he was onto somethin’, man. He knew that it would be a good cash crop for the Southern states, man, so he grew fields of it, man. But you know what? Behind every good man there’s a woman, and that woman was Martha Washington, man, and every day, George would come home, she’d have a big fat bowl waiting for him, man, when he’d come in the door. She was a hip, a hip, hip lady, man.”

Sadly, it has to be pointed out here that none of that is true.

Washington, and many other farmers at the time, grew hemp, but the notion of smoking weed was essentially absent in colonial America. Incredibly, despite having been mocked in a popular movie 27 years ago, this myth—and many like it—persist, thanks to social media giving every person a voice in the discourse.

Sometimes, the myths come in the form of a full, Slater-like declaration, but more often than not, it’s slightly more sly: Twitter is filled with people declaring that “George Washington grew cannabis,” for instance. And while technically true (hemp is a form of cannabis), the lack of context makes clear what these people are trying, for whatever reason, to get across.

The world of cannabis is filled with such nonsense, from bizarre health claims to the insistence that hemp will “save the world.”

When the Covid pandemic hit the U.S., out came the people who insisted that cannabis could “cure” the virus. As recounted in this space at the time, the people making this claim ranged from marginal randos with eight followers to ex-NFL player Kyle Turley, who reportedly resigned from his cannabis business after multiple complaints that he was selling CBD as a Covid-19 cure.

Of course, the prohibitionists have plenty of persistent myths of their own, like the one about how cannabis use turns people into murderous psychopaths, or how it causes male sterility. Anyone who follows cannabis discussions online is bound to come across an example of this insanity—either pro- or anti-cannabis—within an hour of logging on.

One meme that got heavy rotation on social media a few years ago explained that, “it’s common knowledge that wars are fought over oil. What’s not common knowledge is that hemp can do anything oil does, which means legalizing cannabis could literally stop wars.”

The knowledge is common, all right, but presumably not in the sense meant by the meme-maker.

The fact that hemp was illegal for 81 years up until three years ago was, of course, ludicrous, and hemp is a highly useful, versatile crop. But the only reason it attracted “activism”-minded types at all was the same as the reason it was outlawed in the first place: its relationship to marijuana. Hemp is just cannabis that doesn’t get you high. It’s hard to imagine a whole huge movement devoted to legalizing jute or sawgrass if, for some reason, those crops were outlawed.

Hemp advocacy online seems to have died down somewhat since the crop was legalized in the 2018 Farm Bill. Presumably, the same will happen with pot after it’s inevitably legalized at the federal level. Most of the weird, almost religious totemism that surrounds cannabis—the crazy claims, the memes, the dorm posters and the pot-leaf belt buckles—comes from the fact that it’s illegal. Once it becomes just another part of everyday life, the incentive to fetishize it will mostly vanish.

Maybe the pot lobby should raise this point with lawmakers.

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