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Henry VIII's Reign Was A Golden Age For Hemp

Cannabis historians are familiar with America's World War II era slogan, "Hemp for Victory", which encouraged farmers to help the war effort by sowing crops of hemp - marijuana's non-psychoactive cousin. But that campaign was actually a throwback to the reign of England's King Henry VIII, who was born 525 years ago today.

In 1533, the Tudor king made hemp cultivation the law of the land. For every 60 acres, farmers had to set aside one rood (about 1/4 acre) for flax or hemp. Otherwise, they'd face a fine of three shillings and four pence - about half a year's wage for a household servant - for breaking the law.

That's right: there was once a time in history when you would get punished for not growing hemp. We hope actor Woody Harrelson brought that up when he was put on trial for planting the illegal seed in 1996.

But back to Henry VIII's time. He mandated hemp cultivation in order to make more rope, sails, nets and other naval equipment. At the time, England was a black sheep among European countries because of the Reformation - England's split from the Catholic Church (the Brexit of the day). To prevent another European kingdom from forcing England back into the fold, Henry mustered one of the world's first professional navies.

The threat of invasion slowly became a reality under the reign of Henry's daughter Elizabeth I, who faced war with Spain - the global superpower of the 16th century. So the Virgin Queen ordered farmers to grow even more hemp and and made the penalties for breaking that law stiffer than a starched ruff - the upscale bibs of Renaissance Europe.

Diego Velázquez - Philip III on

Henry's and Elizabeth's preparations paid off in 1588, when England's hemp-outfitted ships thrashed the Spanish Armada. So in an alternate history, Spanish might be the official language throughout North America if it weren't for the cannabis plant.

h/t ABC News

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