George Washington was a big fan of industrial hemp, and the managers of his estate in Virginia brought that legacy to life this summer by planting a patch of the crop at Mount Vernon.
Last week, according to the Associated Press, historical interpreters at Mount Vernon harvested the hemp crop and processed it into fiber that can be used in rope or cloth. That followed a summer in which the estate teamed up with the University of Virginia to cultivate the crop.
This summer marked the first time in decades hemp has been cultivated at Mount Vernon. But in George Washington’s time, it was in regular rotation.
“To bring this crop back it just really helps complete our agricultural story,” Dean Norton, the director of horticulture at the estate, tells NPR. Norton tells the Associated Press that Washington referred to hemp more than 90 times in his journals and diaries.
In the 1760s Washington considered replacing tobacco with hemp, when the market for tobacco collapsed. A modern-day politician has a similar idea. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing to legalize hemp cultivation nationwide, in part to replace tobacco as a crop in his home state of Kentucky.
“I will advocate for Kentucky’s multi-billion-dollar agriculture industry. … Additionally, I will strongly advocate to legalize industrial hemp,” McConnell said when appointing himself to the conference committee ironing out this year’s Farm Bill. Legislation legalizing hemp McConnell has sponsored is included in the Senate version of the bill, but not the House version. The powerful Kentucky senator’s presence on the conference committee increases the odds of the hemp legislation making it into the final Farm Bill.
John Hudack of the Brookings Institution and author of Marijuana: A Short History, tells NPR there’s a real chance for nationwide legalization. “I think where we’re at right now, is a situation in which, finally a lot of members of Congress … have finally stopped buying drug war-era rhetoric, stopped thinking about the cannabis plant in a very uniform way,” he says.
A farmer from Charlottesville advocated for the modern-day crop at Mount Vernon in the hope that it would provide hemp with positive public relations.
Brian Walden, who tells NPR he considers himself a “hemp patriot,” says, “This is an innocuous plant that has real benefits and our Founding Fathers knew that and they planted it.”
Walden says he believes the crop could be a billion-dollar industry if cultivation is fully legalized. “It is something that can boost their farming in a time when tariffs are inhibiting that,” he says.