In the United States, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month (May) pays tribute to the generations of Asians and Pacific Islanders who have made an impact on the nation. Interestingly, hidden in the annals of U.S. relations with the Pacific Islands is a nugget of trivia.

While there under the auspices of the U.S. government, U.S. Peace Corps volunteers were responsible for introducing the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM) to marijuana. Prior to the volunteers’ 1966 arrival in the FSM on one of the organization’s inaugural deployments, that country’s 607 islands (in four major groups called states) were cannabis-less. The languages spoken in the FSM didn’t even have words for “marijuana,” “cannabis” or anything related. But that all changed when hippies made their mark and one went rogue.

Where’s Micronesia?

Image Source: Oceania ISO:Tintazulderivative work: Cruickshanks, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Image Source: Oceania ISO:Tintazulderivative work: Cruickshanks, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The best description of where the FSM lies in the Pacific Ocean comes from the country’s Wikipedia entry: “northeast of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, south of Guam and the Marianas, west of Nauru and the Marshall Islands, east of Palau and the Philippines, about 2,900 km (1,800 mi) north of eastern Australia, 3,400 km (2,100 mi) southeast of Japan, and some 4,000 km (2,485 mi) southwest of the main islands of the Hawaiian Islands.”

Are the Federated States of Micronesia a U.S. Territory Like Guam?

The FSM isn’t a U.S. territory, but it does have many of the privileges granted to territories by the U.S. government. Although this could change by the end of 2023, when the current compact between the United States and the FSM expires (and recently failed to be renewed), the FSM is categorized as a freely associated state. In an arrangement that dates back to 1986, the two countries are joined as described by the Office of Insular Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior:

“Under the Compact [of Free Association], the United States provides financial assistance, defends the FSM’s territorial integrity, and provides uninhibited travel for FSM citizens to the U.S.  In return, the FSM provides the United States with unlimited and exclusive access to its land and waterways for strategic purposes. … [H]undreds of FSM citizens serve in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces and further their education in the United States. The FSM also uses the U.S. dollar as its currency.”

Unlike when traveling to/from most U.S. territories, Americans need a passport to travel to/from the FSM. However, unlike people visiting the United States from countries that aren’t freely associated states, eligible Micronesians can live, work and study in any part of the country (including U.S. territories) without a visa. As a result, Guam and Hawaii have large Micronesian populations, for which they receive millions of dollars from the U.S. government as Compact Impact aid. (Of note, Compact Impact funding was excluded from the Biden administration’s proposed budget for 2024, by the way.)

The Federated States of Micronesia, whose flag is shown above, is an independent country that has close ties with the United States through diplomatic, financial and military relations.

The Federated States of Micronesia, whose flag is shown above, is an independent country that has close ties with the United States through diplomatic, financial and military relations.

Why the Peace Corps Rushed to the FSM After Its Creation

The Pacific Islands were high on the Kennedy administration’s list after President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961. Since 1947, six island clusters – Chuuk, the Marshall Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Pohnpei and Yap – had been under U.S. administration as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).

The United States was responsible for helping these islands to achieve economic self-reliance and political self-government, after which it was expected to decolonize the islands. When the United Nations (UN) created a decolonization committee in 1960, the United States came under scrutiny in the UN for procrastinating in executing the TTPI trustee agreement. With pressure being applied to the Kennedy administration, Peace Corps volunteers were alerted to go to Micronesia shortly after the organization’s creation.

United Nations Headquarters, Geneva. Photo Credit: Samuel, CC BY-SA 4.0,via Wikimedia Commons

United Nations Headquarters, Geneva. Photo Credit: Samuel, CC BY-SA 4.0,via Wikimedia Commons

According to a leaked classified document from this era, the Solomon Report, Peace Corps volunteers were actually tasked – whether they realized it or not – to act as U.S. propagandists. The experts who had written the report advising the United States on decolonizing the TTPI lands instructed the government to “saturate the islands with American teachers, preferably Peace Corps, whose primary function would be to teach the English language, and patriotic songs and rituals.”

Peace Corps teachers began arriving in the mid-1960s, and by 1966, there were almost 700 across the TTPI islands. This made it look like the United States was following through on its commitment to discharge its full responsibilities as trustee. Despite that, the general opinion within and beyond the FSM was that its trustee wanted to keep that island nation within the U.S. domain indefinitely. A 1977 report from the American Universities Field Staff covers this in great – but pointedly cynical – detail.

The Five Leaves for the Four FSM States

One Peace Corps volunteer in 1967 in the FSM state Chuuk (aka Truk) had a bit of a bad-boy reputation, known for breaking the corps’ rules and partying hard with locals. That volunteer was Matt Mix. As it was, the Peace Corps volunteers were already seen by the locals as freeloaders who did little but score food and get high all the time, but Mix didn’t just smoke weed there; he grew it there, too. And that’s what changed things long term for the FSM: a government employee who permanently altered Chuuk’s local vegetation and eventually spawned the FSM’s underground cannabis market.

A 1993 book written by one of Mix’s co-volunteers, Paul Kluge, explains that Mix had two marijuana plants in the yard behind the house he was staying in while volunteering. Before long, according to Kluge, “a local kid started talking about Matt’s cigarettes that made you drunk.” The Peace Corps sent Mix home once word got out.

Photo credit:Cannabis Pictures, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit:Cannabis Pictures, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The source that’s nearly always cited when attributing weed’s FSM importation to a Peace Corps volunteer, “Marijuana in Chuuk,” doesn’t mention Matt Mix by name. However, it provides details that corroborate Kluge’s lesser-known account. According to that study’s author:

“It is said that marijuana was first introduced to Chuuk by a foreigner who resided on Nama Island toward the end of the 1960s. The person is reported to have had in his possession some marijuana seeds which he sowed and which later grew into healthy plants.”

That same source provides evidence concluding that marijuana was not a native Chuukese crop:

“Marijuana is best known to the people of Chuuk as maruo. It is interesting to note that marijuana, as a name, has a feminine ending, but maruo is a male name. It is sometimes referred to as the ‘different’ cigarette. Marijuana is a pretty new item to the Chuukese people. Its newness and foreignness is [sic] evident in the many vocabulary words that the Chuukese use in association with marijuana. They include such words as ‘joint,’ ‘wrap,’ ‘tops’ and ‘seeds.’”

Peace Corps volunteers weren’t the only ones keeping cannabis in circulation across the FSM though. According to a 2022 book analyzing 1970s Oceania, as Micronesian students studied in the United States, they brought pot back to the FSM when returning home. So, even though it was the Peace Corps that first introduced the FSM to weed (and the 2022 book reiterates that), weed would’ve found its way there from the United States in another way.

A Net Positive 

The fact of its being foreign to Chuuk made cannabis a tough thing for established Chuukese authorities (elders, chiefs, etc.) to accept. A journal article exploring the cultural impact of weed being introduced to the FSM says that marijuana was seen as a “custom from elsewhere … causing craziness, forgetfulness, overeating, irritability and laziness.”

Nevertheless, according to that same article, society at large was a huge fan of pot – and not for exclusively superficial reasons, either:

“On the one hand, smoking was seen as a means to enhance collective solidarity and increase trust among people, smokers usually being close kin and intimate friends. Pot, in such contexts, was shared to sustain and create relationships. The Chuukese viewed being high as a state of tranquility and frivolity. Older youth would relax while high. Younger kids would yell loudly and practice karate kicks. But many reasons were cited for smoking: to combat asthma, defeat loneliness, lose weight, out of frustration for being unemployed, to enjoy sex more and face stress. [Researcher and historian] Larson also reported that marijuana had also been assimilated into Pacific patterns of consumption.”

So, even though getting high on weed – unlike getting a socially acceptable betelnut buzz – was frowned upon, it had a considerable positive impact on Chuukese culture. And this was the case as cannabis spread throughout Chuuk and leaped from one island to the next throughout the FSM. There was greater resistance in other parts of Oceania, such as the Marshall Islands, where moral opposition to intoxication was a greater force than anything weed could aspire to be. But after Matt Mix put a self-sustaining blunt in rotation in Chuuk, that set the course permanently for the FSM.

The established FSM authorities wasted no time in adopting the United States’ controlled substances model though, making marijuana illegal. (Click here to read our analysis deconstructing that model’s legal foundation.) To this day, both recreational and medical cannabis are illegal in the FSM. Not surprisingly, that doesn’t stop Micronesians from consuming cannabis recreationally and medically anyhow. Maybe the FSM will see the great things medical marijuana is achieving in neighboring Guam and change course. As Mix’s legacy proves, you never know what will happen to turn the tides.

Kathleen Hearons is a writer, editor, linguist and voice over actor from Los Angeles. She specializes in creative writing and research-intensive analysis and reporting.  




Sources and Suggested Reading

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