Today, two more states in the United States have voted to legalize recreational marijuana, which brings the total to four, or eight percent of the country. As tolerance for the venerable herb grows, I thought today would be a good day to remember that pot has always had a place in American culture, and it wasn’t always viewed negatively by the general population.
As this war poster shows, hemp and other industrial products made from the cannabis plant were once an important part of the economy.
Popeye, the Sailor Pothead
A persistent rumor has it that the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor man used cannabis regularly, and this was the true source of his strength.
Literature from the Marihuana, Hashish, and Hemp Museum in Amsterdam explains it like this:
Thanks to his tins of spinach, the muscles of the famous cartoon figure Popeye achieved enormous proportions. But did Popeye really get his green stuff from the greengrocers? When he was created by the cartoonist Erzie Segar in 1929, ‘spinach’ was slang for cannabis. Popeye has been known to consume spinach through his pipe. Anti-marijuana lobbyists claimed that cannabis made you supernaturally strong, and, as Popeye sang: “I’m strong to the finish ’cause I eats me spinach.” As a sailor, Popeye was also familiar with exotic herbs, and sailors were the first people in the US to adopt the practice of smoking cannabis. In the 1960s Popeye’s dog was called Birdseed; at that time, hemp seeds were a well-known source of nutrition for birds, as they are today.