Extra, Extra, Read All About It: ‘Uncle Sam Has Started In To Grow Poisons’

View of the Arlington Experimental Farm, on the southern bank of the Potomac River, October 1907

Uncle Sam’s Poison Farm

At Arlington Farms in Washington, D.C the United States not only attempted to breed the world’s finest hemp, a government botanist also sought another agricultural high: “Hasheesh.”

Illustration from the Colorado Transcript, May 27, 1915

The US government’s plan to grow drug-type cannabis at Arlington Farms was disclosed in a 1904 Boston Sunday Globe article announcing “Uncle Sam has started in to grow poisons.”

The article would not only reveal the government’s program growing the drug-type Indian hemp, but also its plan to manufacture and refine the plants into “first-class quality” hashish for sale on the open American market.

“Uncle Sam has started in to grow poisons. He has set up a hasheesh factory, on a small scale, and is about to try the commercial production and manufacture of opium. Deadly nightshade, monkshood, henbane, foxglove, jimson weed and wormwood are among the plants which are being cultivated in an experiment garden patch, about two acres in extent, on the Potomac flats, close by the city of Washington.

The plants selected for culture in this government garden are those that yield the deadliest of known poisons, which are at the same time the most powerful and valuable drugs employed by medical science. We import something like $8,000,000 yearly of such drugs (including raw materials from which they are extracted), and it is believed that most of this money might be saved by producing the toxic weeds for ourselves. Up to the present time no attention has been paid to this kind of gardening in the United States, but the department of agriculture is making a study of it in the manner described, and proposes next year to devote extensive areas to the purpose, with a view to ascertaining the commercial possibilities of the industry.”

the Boston Sunday Globe, January 10, 1904

With a multitude of drug type plants being grown and tested on the farm, Indian hemp clearly stood out to researchers for its deep mystique, while captivating the botanist with its beauty and medical properties.

“The most striking feature of the poison garden on the Potomac Flats is a patch of indian hemp, from which the famous drug called “hasheesh” is obtained. Its delicate stalks of waving green tower to a height of 10 feet, with many branches, and at the top delicate tassels of tiny flowers. It is from the seed-vessels that is derived the substance with which yields the toxic agent so celebrated in history and romance. This substance is bright green in color, and, when swallowed, produces the most extraordinary visions and hallucinations.”

Man stands by ‘Indian Hemp’ plant grown for hashish at Arlington Experimental Farm, Virginia in 1904

Apart from the plant’s stunning beauty and romantic allure, Indian hemp at Arlington Farm had another advantage over the other “poison plants” in the garden: a head start.

At least two years prior to the government’s announcement of its official drug garden, USDA botanists were already growing the drug type Indian hemp at Arlington Farm. In the 1903 book “The Plant World.” the author notes the resiliency of the drug type “Indian hemp” being grown at the Potomac Flats (Arlington Farm).

“During the season of 1902 it was noted that specimens (of indian hemp) growing on the Potomac Flats withstood, without apparent injury, a temperature of 28F, at which time the ground was slightly frozen.”

The United States continued to grow drug type Indian hemp and produce its extract at Arlington Farms and other USDA Experimental Stations around the country up until at least 1915 when much of the governments “poison garden” was moved to private land “by American Scientist on the Virginia Hills just opposite the National Capital,” according to The Colorado Transcript, May 27, titled “First Medical Drug Plant Farm in the World.” Included in the list of plants that would now be grown for profit on this new private medical drug farm: “cannabis.”

India drug producing hemp on left; Kentucky fiber producing hemp in seed rows on right. Indian hemp for hash grown in a USDA experiment station farm in 1912, from the Yearbook of the USDA 1913

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