History, History Column

Marijuana – It’s Legal!


by ©Sarah Becker

Marijuana – It’s Legal!

In 1792, Quaker Edward Stabler borrowed 100 pounds to buy stock for his Alexandria Apothecary Shop.  Now a National Historic Landmark, the Stabler-Leadbeater Apothecary Shop’s history dates from 1792 to 1933.  Medicinal cannabis was first introduced in the 1850s; on the Leadbeater families’ corporate watch. 

“Records do not tell us what feelings of uncertainty Edward Stabler 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.”

                Hemp: Cannabis sativa, an industrial crop; a highly profitable fiber crop used in the production of rope and such.  The Commonwealth’s latest Industrial Hemp Law was enacted in 2015.  

Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines Cannabis as “the dried flowering tops of hemp plants which contain the euphoric principles ^1-3,4-trans and ^6-3,4 trans-tetrahydrocannabinol.  It is classified as a hallucinogenic and prepared as bhang, ganja, hashish, and marijuana.”  Cannabism: “a morbid state produced by the misuse of cannabis.”  Marijuana: “a crude preparation of the leaves and flowering tops of [male and female] hemp plants.” 

“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 wrote in 1854.  “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….”

On February 27, 2021, Virginia became the 4th state to legalize marijuana by way of the legislature–in this instance for adult recreation use.  The Virginia House of Delegates passed the nearly 300-page tempestuous measure on a 48 to 43 vote.  The Senate’s vote followed, 20-19.  Despite a federal prohibition: the Controlled Substances Act!

Rather than sign the bill, Governor Ralph Northam suggested changes.  On March 31 the Governor “proposed moving up the legalization of simple possession of marijuana—from 2024 to July 1, 2021.  The Governor also announced he is proposing changes that advance public health protections, set clear expectations for labor protections in the cannabis industry, and begin to seal criminal records immediately.”

“Our Commonwealth is committed to legalizing marijuana in an equitable way,” Governor Northam said.  “These changes will ensure that we do it with a focus on public safety, public health, and social justice.”  The proposed amendments “will also allow households to grow up to four marijuana plants…plants labeled with identification information, out of sight from public view, and out of range of individuals Under 21.”

One interesting quirk: “The booming U.S. marijuana industry is exhaling greenhouse gases at a rate expected to grow as more states move toward legalization.  Indoor cannabis operations—which require high-intensity grow lights and large amounts of electricity and natural gas—are emitting more greenhouse gases than previously thought, according to a recent study published in Nature Sustainability.  Greenhouses emit between 2,283 and 5,184 kilograms of carbon dioxide CO2 per kilogram of dried flower during its lifetime, which is equivalent to the emissions of 3 million average cars.”

In 1619—402 years ago—“the Virginia Assembly passed legislation requiring every colonial farmer to grow industrial hemp.  After the 1720-22 sessions, the General Assembly offered a bounty of 4s. for every ‘gross hundred’ of hemp, water-rotted, bright and clean to encourage production.”  References to Washington [Mount Vernon] and Jefferson [Monticello] growing hemp at home “to smoke on my back veranda” are 21st century lore.

“I am very glad to hear that the Gardener has saved so much of the…India Hemp,” President George Washington wrote William Pearce on February 24, 1794.  “Make the most you can…The Hemp may be sown anywhere.”

“The fibers from hemp held excellent properties for making rope and sail canvas,” Mount Vernon confirmed.  “In addition, hemp fibers could be spun into thread for clothing, or as indicated in Mount Vernon records, used in repairing the large [encircling] seine nets Washington used in his fishing operation along the Potomac.  At one point in the 1760s Washington considered whether hemp would be a more lucrative cash crop than tobacco.”  In the end Washington grew only enough hemp to meet Mount Vernon’s, his five farms’ needs.

Hemp, overall, has yielded many fine products.  “A new idea in floor covering is the use of white manila hemp,” The Washington Post noted in 1938. 

“The newly named olive green shoe—Adidas Hemp—is now available,” The Washington Post reported in 1995.  “It’s just the latest in a burgeoning trend of clothing made from that thin-leaved flora of modern-day infamy.  Farmers call it hemp, scientists call it Cannabis sativa, but to cops and dope dealers across the country, it’s simply marijuana.” 

The 1854 U.S. 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.”

The United States Pharmacopeia mentioned patented marijuana tinctures as early as 1850.  “The U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP) is the official public standards-setting authority for all prescription and over-the-counter medicines; dietary supplements and other healthcare products manufactured and sold in the United States.”  A tincture is defined as “a medicinal solution [of a drug] in alcohol.”

“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 recounted 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 Indian 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.”

Cannabis was labeled as a poison beginning in 1906.  “A strong provision in [the Pure Food and Drug Act] compels the labels of patent medicines to bear a statement of the amount of alcohol or poisons contained in the preparations,” The New York Times recounted.  “For every case of ptomaine poisoning from meat there are a hundred cases of poisoning from hurtful drugs masquerading as helpful medicines.”  The Act established the Food and Drug Administration, so named in 1930, and “prohibited adulterated or mislabeled food and drugs from interstate commerce.”

“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 proclaimed 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.”

“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 penned in 1914.  The same year Congress approved the historic Harrison Narcotics Act.

“Marijuana, a devastating drug found in flowered tops of Indian hemp, is said to have come into vogue recently among musicians in Chicago,” The Washington Post revealed in 1928.  “Introduced by Mexicans who have lately moved to that city, the insidious habit-forming marijuana—or Mary Jane—is said to have acclaimed thousands of addicts within the last two or three years.  Its popularity is probably due to the effects it first has upon its devotees.”

The Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN) was established in 1930 as part of the government’s broader push to outlaw recreational drugs.  As of 1931—two years before Alexandria’s Leadbeater Drug Corporation closed—29 states had criminalized cannabis. 

“In the absence of Federal legislation on the subject, the States and cities should rightfully assume the responsibility for providing vigorous measures for the extinction of…marijuana,” Commissioner of Narcotics Harry J. Anslinger concluded in 1935.

“Ever since the world began man has been searching for chemicals or charms that would relieve pain,” Dr. Irving S. Cutting wrote in 1936.  “But as a stimulant to crime cannabis is probably as important as cocaine and narcotic control agencies will be put in a severe test in rooting out the traffic.”  Marijuana was “sold chiefly in the form of cigarettes” and “peddled frequently in dance halls.”

As of 1937, 46 of the 48 states had enacted laws to prevent marijuana use, especially traffic in Indian hemp.  Federal penalties included “a tax on the sale” of marijuana. 

Cannabis preparations were removed from the U.S. Pharmacopeia in 1941.  Yet as of 2016 marijuana—medicinal and or recreational—was again legal in the majority of states, Virginia excluded.  Now Virginia finds itself on the forefront of change. 

The Commonwealth’s “push for legalization comes after the new Democratic majority at the General Assembly passed decriminalization legislation last year, making simple possession [of marijuana] a civil penalty that can be punished by a fine of not more than $25,” Virginia Lawyers Weekly wrote in February 2021.

Democrats framed the legalization as a necessary step to end the disparate treatment of people of color under current marijuana laws.  “The legislation…is a ‘justice bill,’” House Majority Leader Charniele Herring [D-Alexandria] said.

“This moves us in a…direction to strike down and to address those institutional barriers, and over-policing, over-arrests, over-convictions of African-Americans who do not use marijuana at a higher rate than our white counterparts,” Herring explained.  The General Assembly’s “watchdog agency found that from 2010-2019, the average arrest rate of Black individuals for marijuana possession was 3.5 times higher than the arrest rate for white individuals.”

“The largest portion of the tax revenue from marijuana sales [will] go toward funding pre-K for at-risk kids,” The Washington Post related.

On April 7 Virginia became “the first state in the South to legalize the simple possession of marijuana,” Governor Northam announced.  “I am pleased that the General Assembly accepted my proposal to make this change on July 1, 2021 [and] am grateful to Lt. Governor Fairfax for his tie-breaking [Senate] vote.” 

One can only wonder what apothecary and dentist John L. Leadbeater (1808-1860)—merchant, fire warden, and member of the 1850s Alexandria city council—and his successors would say.

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