What we can learn from the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving
This Thanksgiving, let’s take time out to remember that we in the medical cannabis community have much in common with the Plymouth Pilgrims, and I’m not just talking about our mutual love of funny hats.
Like those 17th century settlers, we, too, have experienced oppression for our beliefs. We, too, hold firm to our right to be free of persecution and tyranny, to live our lives as we see fit. We, too, have sought to learn from those who came before us how to live closer to the earth and to coax forth from the soil our bounteous harvests. We, too, are a generally self-reliant bunch, preferring to rely on our wits and each other to survive and thrive in a fickle and unforgiving land.
But beyond all that, what our community really has in common with the Plymouth Colony Pilgrims is marijuana.
Consider this passage from Mourt’s Relation, a journal of the Plymouth Pilgrim experience written by Edward Winslow between 1621 and 162—just in time to document the First Thanksgiving:
“Many kinds of herbs we found here in winter, as strawberry leaves innumerable, sorrel, yarrow, carvel, brooklime, liverwort, watercresses, great store of leeks and onions, and an excellent strong kind of flax and hemp.”
This in itself isn’t proof that the Plymouth Pilgrims were developing a taste for cannabis about the time they were passing the plates around at the First Thanksgiving in 1621. The word hemp had multiple meanings at the time. But it does give us a clue to the mindset of the European settlers of the New World. Unable to run out to the local CVS or Home Depot for their needs, they prized whatever materials were at hand.
At hand in the British Colonies of the 17th century was a particular raw material of astounding usefulness and versatility: cannabis. It grew just about anywhere and could be processed into everything from rope to clothing to livestock feed. With a little cultivation it could also produce an herb with remarkable medicinal and psychoactive properties, though there’s little evidence that the Plymouth Pilgrims actually smoked the stuff.
We know that the Jamestown colonists brought cannabis hemp to Virginia in 1611, and that by 1630 it was a valuable resource for both the Jamestown and Plymouth settlements. We know the plant was considered important enough to the settlers that laws were passed—in Virginia in 1619 and Massachusetts in 1639—requiring farmers to plant hemp seed.
And we know why these laws were passed and why the colonists embraced cannabis like green gold—it was out of necessity. The settlers needed the rope and they needed the clothing, and they really, really needed the money that came with possessing a valuable trading commodity like cannabis. Essentially private financial ventures, the colonies needed to be solvent to survive.
That’s yet another thing the medical cannabis community— indeed, California itself—has in common with the Pilgrims. For us, as for them, unhindered access to cannabis isn’t just something we want because we have too much money at the end of the month—it’s a necessity. We need it for the safe management of medical ailments and pain, for the full enjoyment of life.
Now we’ve come to a point where the state itself can no longer afford to deny the financial benefits of a thriving cannabis community. Simply put, California—so mired in the economic muck that major newspapers have taken to calling it America’s first failed state—needs money and lots of it. By lifting the remaining legal barriers on the cannabis industry, the state Legislature could open a revenue stream from its current trickle to a critically needed flood.
Just like our Forefathers did.