When we think of England's history, we think of King Henry and his six wives, the imposing Tower of London, and Jack the Ripper. When looking at England's past, we don't imagine cannabis. However, cannabis also has its part in England's history alongside the crown jewels.
According to Civilized, Europe's use of cannabis can be dated back to the 16th century. Much like the Egyptians and Vikings, England used cannabis for fiber production. The predecessor to modern day hemp could be used to make everything from rope, to sails for ships, to paper and clothing.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology states, "in 1535 Henry VIII passed an act compelling all landowners to sow 1/4 of an acre, or be fined." Cannabis was a cheaper alternative to other alternative materials and could be grown in greater numbers than other crops. While it sounds odd that the man best known for having six wives and breaking with the Catholic faith mandated farmers to grow cannabis, history often buries gems like this under larger, oftentimes more scandalous, facts.
In fact, according to Hemp: American History Revisited: The Plant with a Divided History by Robert Deitch, King Henry's daughter, Queen Elizabeth the first, increased the amount of hemp farmers were required to grow, along with the fines required if they failed to follow the law. This was during a time when England was under threat from their neighbor and sometimes ally, Spain. England was in the process of building one of the most intimidating naval forces at the time and needed hemp as part of their expansion process.
By the 18th century, cannabis had expanded as a medicinal crop. According to Civilized, "cannabis was gaining attention in the medical world so much that even Queen Victoria was given it by her doctor to relieve pain." Unfortunately, this would not last.
In 1925, the international drug conference in Geneva outlawed the trade of cannabis. According to the released document provided by the United Nations Treaty Collection, "The Contracting Parties shall exercise an effective control of such a nature as to prevent the illicit international traîne in Indian hemp and especially in the resin."
This created a snowball effect, that led to the ban of cannabis and cannabis products soon after. During this time, the effects of cannabis were associated with opium, driving fear into England's society. As a result, cannabis was made illegal until recent years.
Cannabis helped shape England's past and some of its most influential historical figures had a hand in its agricultural history. In fact, cannabis was a part of everyday life until it was incorrectly associated with opium in the 1900s and painted as a villain by the international drug conference in Geneva. Thankfully, with modern research dispelling many incorrect assumptions about cannabis, it is retaking its place in society.