Cannabis and the War of 1812


Title: Veterans of the War of 1812, at ‘Rosedale’ the home of William B. Jarvis 1861
Creator: Photographer unknown, after William Armstrong, 1822-1914
Date: October 23, 1861
Identifier: JRR 772 Cab II ; PICTURES-R-3914 ; D5_JRR_772_Veterans of the War of 1812, at the home of William B. Jarvis
Rights: Public domain
Courtesy: Toronto Public Library.

Are you a history buff? Do you enjoy learning about the cultures and wars of the past? Well, in your readings, you may have never come across anything to do with cannabis and the culture around it.


Both the Napoleonic Wars and the War of 1812 were intertwined deeply with cannabis hemp. Before the War of 1812, Russia led the world in production of cannabis textiles for centuries. Canada had a large growing number of farms and mills dedicated to cannabis but the British navy, in the early part of the 1800’s, still had to count on Russia for a good portion of their cannabis sails and rope.

In France, as Napoleon rose in power, Britain chose to use their superior navy to blockade Europe. By controlling the Straits of Gibraltar and the English Channel, they cut off the entire Continent from trade in the Atlantic.

Since Napoleon was unable to beat Britain by sea, he banned all trade with Britain by the European nations so that their supply of cannabis was cut off and they would be economically isolated. Britain, to try and get around the ban on trade, would occasionally capture American ships, make them buy Russian cannabis by force, and then have them take it to England.

Since the cannabis industry was so important to the economy of Russia, it did not abide by the ban on trading for very long. This made Napoleon mad because he needed to keep the navy of Britain from getting the supplies to make their cannabis ropes and sails, so he decided to launch an invasion against Russia in 1812, one with disastrous results.

In America, the navy was built up using cannabis that was domestically grown and processed by the labor of the slaves. The United States, being annoyed with Britain and their blockade against Europe and their treatment of the American ships, saw a way to grow their own territory and declared war on Britain. The American navy, in 1812, invaded Canada, a nation that was supporting Britain by increasing their production of cannabis to help the British navy at the time.

As you can see, cannabis has been a huge part of the economy for a long, long time. I am sure you didn’t learn about that in school when studying the wars!