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Strange bedfellows

Posted on March 20, 2004

Marijuana group co-opts President Adams’ alter ego

First gay marriage, now pot.

Founding father John Adams, whose Massachusetts Constitution has been cited recently by supporters of same-sex marriage, is now being drafted by marijuana advocates.

On Saturday night, Quincy actor Jim Cooke, who has portrayed some of the most famous figures in American history, is auditioning a new character-one of Adams’ alter egos, a farmer named Humphrey Ploughjogger.

And he’s doing it for the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, a group supporting medicinal and recreational marijuana use.

Under his colonial costume, Cooke plans to sport a psychedelic purple “Don’t Tread on Me” shirt.

Ploughjogger was the pseudonym the 28-year-old Adams used when he wrote a letter to the Boston Evening Post in 1763 advocating the production of hemp as a cash crop to pay off debts and taxes.

“We shall by and by want a world of hemp for our own consumption,” the young lawyer from Quincy wrote.

The fiber of the hemp plant, which is also known by its Latin name cannabis, is used to make a variety of goods, including clothing, caulking and rope for sailing ships. The leaves and flowers are smoked as marijuana.

Cooke, a member of the Cannabis Reform Coalition, said he realizes Adams was talking about industrial uses of hemp and not its hallucinogenic properties.

“There is no evidence that Adams ever smoked it,” he said. “The use Adams envisions is not as a combustible.”

The historian at the Adams National Historic Park in Quincy says marijuana advocates have hijacked the nation’s second president. Yes, said John Stanwich, Adams did write about the advantages of developing the hemp industry. But no, it had nothing to do with the 21st-century cause of legalizing marijuana.

“This has come up before, and it’s so wrong,” Stanwich said. “John Adams didn’t even like smoking. If you read his letters, he thinks it’s a vile habit.”

Cooke, a Libertarian, said Adams’ point was not about marijuana but governmental intrusion into people’s lives.

“Adams as Ploughjogger argued that ‘People can’t pay these high taxes today, people don’t have enough money to live on, young men have died in the recent war and why? And what is the point of all these personal political attacks?’”

Cooke hopes his portrayal of Ploughjogger Saturday night, at the Cannabis Reform Coalition’s annual meeting in Newton, might even be a dress rehearsal for the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July.

“What if Humphrey Ploughjogger were to address the people who came here in July?” Cooke said. “I think it would do a real service. When I think of John Adams later speaking out on views that could have cost him his life-and today politicians worry if they speak out, they won’t be re-elected.”

Staff reporter Lane Lambert also contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2004, The Patriot Ledger. All rights reserved.