Making a Hash of History

by Andrew Stuttaford

Reason’s Jacob Sullum has some fun at Newt Gingrich’s expense:

This morning Newt Gingrich, the historian, insisted that renowned hemp growers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have violently suppressed their own crop:

Dude in Audience: Would Jefferson or George Washington have been arrested for growing marijuana?

 Gingrich: I think Jefferson or George Washington would have strongly discouraged you from growing marijuana, and their techniques     for dealing with it would have been rather more violent than the current government.

 Admittedly, the hypothetical scenario is a little hard to understand. Would Jefferson and Washington have been arrested for growing marijuana if doing so was a federal crime in the 18th century? Probably they would not have been growing it in the first place. More to the point, it never would have occurred to anyone at the time that the newly formed federal government had the authority to proscribe a plant. And judging from his comments in Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson would not have been sympathetic to such a policy, whether at the federal or state level:

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others….Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe [sic, and a time-traveling shout-out to Dan Quayle] as an article of food.”

Jefferson or Gingrich? It’s really not hard to choose.

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