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Ganja Greats: 10 Americans Who Shaped the Pot Landscape

Mark Miller

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With the 4th of July approaching, it’s time to celebrate freedom in America–and of course that starts with weed, now completely legal in eight states and the District of Columbia, the nation’s capital.

Despite the national divisions of liberal and conservative, as well as race, color and creed, weed can serve as a unifying force, as you’ll see in this diverse list of those individuals who helped advance the growth, use and acceptance of cannabis in its varied forms—be it industrial hemp or mind-blowing flowers.

Each of our 10 selections represents an “archetype” of the type of courageous and innovative people who were instrumental in the history of this nation, while simultaneously underscoring how vital and central cannabis has been to the American experience—even when America hasn’t treated the wonder weed, or its proponents, very kindly.

As any stoner worth his or her stash can tell you, there are far more than a mere 10 pot people who could have populated this list, and indeed, many others incredible Americans were closely considered who didn’t quite make the cut; hemp farming Founding Fathers, like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, anthropologist Margaret Mead, the “Hemperor,” pot author and activist Jack Herer and even tech titans Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. 

The fact that there were so many worthy candidates for inclusion on this list speaks to the influence this profound plant has had on so many influential citizens of our nation.

None of these entries are without controversy; some may offend the politically correct, others may disturb more traditional and conservative pot smokers. Yet, there’s no denying the use, facilitation and/or support of cannabis by each of the individuals listed has shaped America for the better. especially now as we celebrate an increasingly liberated stance on weed in our land of the free.

The first half of the list is more hemp-oriented, with the latter entries more concerned with medicinal and recreational cannabis use and legalization.  

This list is not to be viewed as a “ranking” according to some arbitrary qualifying standards, but rather as a chronological countdown, tracing America’s hemp and cannabis history through the eyes of some of its greatest explorers, leaders, capitalists, activists and artists.

So take a huge hit, and then blow out 241 birthday candles to mark America’s age in 2017, as these factoids of figures both historical and present-day embody the history of cannabis in the USA.

1. CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS

Represents: The origins of America, Bringing cannabis to America

Ganja Greats: 10 Americans Who Shaped the Pot Landscape

While our first entry was not an American (Columbus was Italian)—due to the simple fact the U.S. was not in existence during his lifetime—the legendary explorer Christopher Columbus leads off this list due to his seminal role in the transformation of a former pristine land of endless wilderness into arguably the most powerful nation in human history.  

And true, it’s hardly politically correct to assert Columbus “discovered” the land we now call the USA, yet he personifies the European migration to this country that laid the foundation for the nation’s formation in the 18th century.

Although it cannot be empirically verified beyond all doubt, it’s highly probable Columbus brought pot seeds to North America from Spain—the nation that sponsored his voyage—where hemp was grown for great use. As reasoned by PROHBTD, while there is no 500-year old documentation confirming Columbus brought cannabis to the New World, the record does suggest seeds aplenty for harvesting crops were exported to America. Given hemp’s prolific use in the Old World, it seems highly logical that hemp seeds would have been part of the planned plantings in the New World. And there is no doubt that hemp materials were used for the sails and ropes of the most famous armada of ships in history—the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria.

While there is ample evidence to suggest that Native American tribes used cannabis hemp prior to European colonization, per Sensi Seeds, it was Columbus and other explorers’, and later the pilgrims’, familiarity with the cannabis plant that lead to its transport, acceptance and widespread use by the colonies that would eventually revolt against Great Britain and become the United States.   

In fact, cannabis was so vital to the pre-U.S. colonies that in 1619, the Virginia Company—King James I’s corporate entity to conduct the business of settling America—ordered every farmer in colonial Jamestown to grow 100 hemp plants, while the colony’s governor had to grow 5,000. All the freshly harvested hemp was necessary to compensate for so many New World farmers turning to tobacco to become rich, per Drug Library.

By the 17th century, cannabis was “pot and parcel” of everyday life in the colonies and would also play a role in the coming revolution, as well as one of its greatest leaders…

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