Visitors to Monticello don't learn how Jefferson cultivated poppies, and his personal opium use may as well never have happened
Thomas Jefferson was a drug criminal. But he managed to escape the terrible sword of justice by dying a century before the DEA was created. In 1987 agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency showed up at Monticello, Jefferson's famous estate.
Jefferson had planted opium poppies in his medicinal garden, and opium poppies are now deemed illegal. Now, the trouble was the folks at the Monticello Foundation, which preserves and maintains the historic site, were discovered flagrantly continuing Jefferson's crimes. The agents were blunt: The poppies had to be immediately uprooted and destroyed or else they were going to start making arrests, and Monticello Foundation personnel would perhaps face lengthy stretches in prison.
The story sounds stupid now, but it scared the hell out of the people at Monticello, who immediately started yanking the forbidden plants. A DEA man noticed the store was selling packets of "Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Poppies." The seeds had to go, too. While poppy seeds might be legal, it is never legal to plant them. Not for any reason.
Employees even gathered the store's souvenir T-shirts -- with silkscreened photos of Monticello poppies on the chest -- and burned them. Nobody told them to do this, but, under the circumstances, no one dared risk the threat.
Jefferson's poppies are gone without a trace now. Nobody said much at the time, nor are they saying much now. Visitors to Monticello don't learn how the Founding Father cultivated poppies for their opium. His personal opium use and poppy cultivation may as well never have happened.
The American War on Drugs started with opium and it continues today. Deception is key to this kind of social control, along with the usual threats of mayhem. Ever since the passage of the Harrison Act made opium America's first "illicit substance" in 1914, propaganda has proven itself most effective in the war on poppies. This has not been done so much by eradicating the poppy plant from the nation's soil as by eradicating the poppy from the nation's mind.
Prosecutions for crimes involving opium or opium poppies are rare. But that has less to do with the frequency of poppy crimes and everything to do with suppressing information about the opium poppy. A public trial might inadvertently publicize forbidden information at odds with the common spin about poppies and opium. This might pique interest in the taboo subject and, worse, undermine faith in the government.
The U.S. government strategy to create and enforce deliberate ignorance about opium, opium poppies, and everything connected with them has proven remarkably effective. The Monticello campaign exemplifies an effective tactic. The poppies were swiftly removed, and sotto voce threats ensured no one would talk about it afterward. Today, visitors to Monticello learn nothing about opium poppy cultivation or why Jefferson cultivated it in his garden.
Disinformation about poppies has been spread far and wide. Some of it is subtle, like when the New York Times talks about people growing "heroin poppies." Some misinformation is so bald-faced as to stun the listener into silence, as when a DEA agent tells a reporter that the process of getting opium from opium poppies is so complex and dangerous that "I don't even think a person with a Ph.D. could do it."
This enforced ignorance reduces the chances of anyone even accidentally discovering the truth about poppies. Poring through back issues of pharmaceutical industry news from Tasmania might yield a mother load of cutting edge poppy science -- from genetically altered poppies that ooze double-strength opium to state-of-the-art machines designed to manufacture "poppy straw concentrate." Tasmania's output meets roughly a third of the world's narcotic requirement. But how many people know that Tasmania is the home of the world's largest and most modern opium industry?
Opium and opium poppy ignorance is augmented by widespread false beliefs, chief among them that it is extremely difficult for opium poppies to grow anywhere in the United States. Opium poppies surely require exotic climates or special climatic conditions, don't they? They're found on remote mountainsides in the Golden Triangle and Afghanistan, where growing them is a secret art known only to a few indigenous people who jealously guard the seeds from hostile competitors.
These beliefs are all widely held, but entirely untrue. Opium poppies, in fact, grow nearly everywhere but the North and South Poles. The second prong of the strategy is the copious propaganda that demonizes opium, opium poppies and opiates. At times this demonization has been brazenly racist, catering to the xenophobic American mind at the beginning of the twentieth century. Later propaganda linked opium with the despised German "Hun" who ate babies and (as was reported) had been mixing narcotics into children's candy and women's face powder in a diabolical plot to weaken the nation from the inside. Later, Germans were replaced by communists, who also shipped narcotics to America's youth to weaken and enslave us. This was the authoritative word from Harry Anslinger, the infamous first Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Another example of false history is the mythical "soldier's disease" or "army disease" that supposedly plagued the land after the Civil War. According to the story, opium and morphine were used so extensively during the war as a painkiller for wounded soldiers (especially amputees) that the inevitable result was opium and morphine addiction. As a result, crowds of broken-down men roamed the countryside, ramming themselves full of holes with their crude syringes, having been turned into dope slaves by the good intentions of doctors.
This perfect example of anti-drug propaganda sounds plausible enough that few ever question it. And it has endured long after researchers discovered that this mythical legend was purely invention.
There is no documentation of any mass opiate addiction after the Civil War. The term "soldier's disease" or its variants did not appear in literature until decades later. Yet the story fits the officially approved stereotype by portraying opium and morphine as so powerful and addictive that they could rob anyone's soul.
If you knew that opium poppies do not grow in the U.S., you would not recognize an opium poppy even if you were staring directly at it. So, the idea of making opium tea from a bunch of dried decorative flowers purchased at K-Mart is ridiculous--absurd, really. If it were that easy, wouldn't everyone be doing it?
Perhaps. But the establishment prefers to not test it. The idea of an individual having control over one's own life, especially regarding pain relief, is far too democratic to be embraced by tyrants.
The government and its allies in the narco-military complex have gone to great lengths to set things up as they are, and not allow a shift in control would affect licit or illicit sales of narcotics, poppy seeds, and any products derived from Papaver somniferum. In a market the size of America, nothing is too insignificant to generate huge sums of money. And the opium poppy is hardly insignificant.
Jim Hogshire is the author of many books, including most recently, "Opium for the Masses: Harvesting Nature's Best Pain Medication"
By Jim Hogshire
March 3, 2010
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How the DEA Scrubbed Thomas Jefferson's Monticello Poppy Garden from Public Memory