History, History Column

Hemp’s Hectic History

By Sarah Becker ©2018

Hemp’s Hectic History

“History doesn’t drive economies anymore…,” George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller told the Washingtonian in May. He may be right. The Alexandria Convention and Visitors Bureau’s slogan, Still Making History gave way to the ACVA’s Funside of the Potomac years ago. How does Alexandria describe today’s customer groups, its external publics; then develop a marketing plan?

Management guru Peter Drucker defines marketing as the “whole firm taken from the customer’s point of view.” How do you see through the customer’s eyes? It involves “massive surveys.” Marketing is needed “to reach customers and compel them to purchase, use and repurchase your product [or service].”

A marketing strategy is the selection of a target market, the choice of a competitive position, and the development of an effective marketing mix to reach and serve the chosen customers. The market pick is preceded by market segmentation. Segmentation variables include age, sex, income, occupation, attitude preference and more.

The Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Museum may be the only Alexandria museum able to develop offerings with broad appeal: to historic and business travelers, women and minorities, the religious and scientifically inclined.

I know because I inherited the Apothecary Museum with only 8,000 visitors and six months financial life remaining. Yet within a few years I increased the annual visitor count to 34,500; established the Mortar & Pestle Society; raised general operating and capital improvement funds, and an endowment. Buildings restoration over, the Museum, then owned by the Landmarks Society was ribbon wrapped and given to the city.


By comparison…“2016 marks ten years of ownership and operation by the city of Alexandria,” the Office of Historic Alexandria reported on November 29, 2016. “The Apothecary Museum welcomes more than 15,000 visitors annually.”


“The city doesn’t offer the attributes the new economy is looking for,” Fuller concluded. “They need a plan and I don’t think they have one.”

How might the Apothecary Museum attract today’s allegedly uninterested millennial? In 1619 the Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring every colonial farmer to grow hemp. Industrial hemp, used in the production of rope, thread and sailing cloth also traded as legal tender. Mount Vernon’s George Washington cultivated hemp, as part of the sailing industry.

In 1792, young Quaker and apothecary Edward Stabler borrowed 100 pounds to buy stock for his Alexandria shop. “Records do not tell us what feelings of uncertainty he may have harbored in relation to his venture,” Eleanor Leadbeater wrote in 1934, “but they do show that his business prospered to such an extent that he was able to return the loan and double his stock of goods during the first year. The original bill, dated June 1792, came from Townsend Speakman of Philadelphia and contained about one hundred and fifty items, amounting to 120 pounds, 10 shillings and 6 pence, or, as was written underneath 96 pounds, 2 shillings and 3 pence in Virginia currency.” The shop’s corporate history dates from 1792 to 1933.

Medicinal preparations of hemp became available in the 1850s, on in-law John Leadbeater’s watch.

Cannabis is the mixture of dried flowers and leaves that comes from the hemp plant. It was a “fashionable narcotic,” The New York Daily Times said in 1854.

“Two recent articles in Blackwood’s Magazine, on the ‘Narcotics we indulge in,’ have attracted more than ordinary attention: tobacco, hops, opium, hemp, &c.,” The New York Daily Times continued. “Smokers, the intellectual class of them, especially, think, speak, and write better under its influence; and the mere fact, that they are inferior to themselves without it, is a good reason for supposing that it creates an abnormal condition….”


The 1854 United States Dispensary describes cannabis as an extract of hemp. It “acts as a decided aphrodisiac, increases the appetite, and occasionally induces the cataleptic state. In morbid states it has been found to produce sleep, to allay spasm, to compose nervous inquietude, and to relieve pain. In these respects it resembles opium in its operation; but it differs from that narcotic in not diminishing the appetite, checking the secretions, or constipating the bowels. It is much less certain in its effects; but may sometimes be preferably employed, when opium is contraindicated by its nauseating or constipating effects. The complaints to which it has been specially recommended are neuralgia, gout, tetanus, hydrophobia, epidemic cholera, convulsions, chorea, hysteria, mental depression, insanity, and uterine hemorrhage….”


“Fifty years ago a knowledge of the curative properties of ‘roots an’ yerbs’ cut no small figure in the list of a good farm-wife’s accomplishments,” The New York Times reported in 1902. “Today, except in remote places, the quaint old remedies are without honor. Perhaps the most honored of all the tonics was that concocted from hemp…When needed about a teaspoon of the chips was placed in a bottle, with a pint of whisky, and a half teaspoonful of the resulting fluid was given the patient each morning before breakfast. This medicine…ranked high as an appetizer.”

“The reading of the Pure Food bill…was completed,” The New York Times recounted in 1906. “[The bill] compels the labels of patent medicines to bear a statement of the amount of alcohol or poisons contained in the preparations…For every case of ptomaine poisoning from meat there are a hundred cases of poisoning from hurtful drugs masquerading as helpful medicines.” Cannabis was labeled as a poison beginning in 1906.

“In its effort to protect the public against the insidious effects of preparations containing drugs injurious to health, the Department of Agriculture has issued a warning to mothers, invalids, and users of medicated soft drinks,” The New York Times wrote in 1910. “It is almost unbelievable that any one for the sake of a few dollars would concoct a pernicious mixture, but such mixtures have been found, and their names published, containing morphine, codeine, opium, cannabis Indica, or heroin. Some of the harmful nostrums are advertised as cures for asthma, catarrh, cold, coughs, consumption, epilepsy, and the tobacco habit.”

The Harrison Drug Act passed in 1914. The Uniform State Narcotic Act was drafted beginning in 1925. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established in 1930 as part of the government’s broader push to outlaw recreational drugs. “Since changes in the postal regulations went into effect, we have not been able to get any poisons by mail from a single manufacturer,” E.S. Leadbeater & Sons noted on July 29, 1914.

By 1933, the year of the Leadbeater Drug Corporation’s closing, 29 states had criminalized cannabis. “As a stimulant to crime cannabis is probably as important as cocaine, certainly far more so than opium or any of its derivatives, and narcotic control agencies will be put in a severe test in rooting out the traffic,” Dr. Irving S. Cutting noted in 1936.

In 1970 the federal government forbade, still forbids the use of cannabis for any reason. Yet as of 2016 medical cannabis was again legal in the majority of states, Virginia excluded. A dilemma how? The external message what?   

Marketing is a factual measure of message appeal. In Alexandria’s museum world, a world of places and events, locals depend disproportionately on pull power. The marketing mix includes four p’s: place, product, price and promotion.   

Columnist’s Note:  On May 10, Chef Patrick O’Connell, in celebration of the Inn at Little Washington’s 40th anniversary joined Mount Vernon President Douglas Bradburn and Director of Horticulture Dean Norton to plant garden seeds. Director Norton’s talent is unmatched. As is Chef O’Connell’s cuisine. Food festivities resume on June 16, a gala dinner event.

On May 3 Parker A. Poodle, Crier scribe and faithful companion was invited to read with 75 second grade students at Lyles Crouch Traditional Academy. His March column Dog Gone It America, Read! caught librarian Celeste Knoll and teachers’ attention. Parker shared three of his favorite books: Rocket Writes a Story, portions of What Do You Do With An Idea? and Go, Dog, Go! Thanks to all who participated.    

Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007.  Email: abitofhistory53@gmail.com

0.00 avg. rating (0% score) - 0 votes