A History Of Hemp In The United States

World globe sits on a desk

The widespread human use of hemp in history is undeniable, though the history of hemp in America has been rocky, at best. A combination of social and economic pressures led hemp both to the height of popularity and to its comparatively sudden downfall. Let’s look at how this once legally mandated crop, then legally banned crop, has risen once again to the forefront of American agriculture.

The Ancient History Of Hemp

Archaeological signs point to the use of hemp by humans as far back as 8000 B.C.–10,000 years ago. While speculated that it may have been one of mankind’s first cultivated crops, its importance as a fiber, medicine, and oil source is undeniable. While the Spanish introduced hemp to Chile successfully in 1545, North American wild hemp was already being used and, in places, cultivated by the early 1600s, providing a quality of hemp one explorer noted as being better than that grown in Europe at the time.

The History Of Hemp In Early America

Hemp was an important fiber crop in Europe, and as colonies struggled to become self-sufficient, that importance was increased. Its use for clothing, rope, paper, and other materials made it a strategic fiber. Navies of the time used hemp for everything from rigging to sails, with a lone ship requiring up to 120,000 pounds of raw hemp fiber for its production. Armies and civic entities likewise needed a healthy supply of hemp, as did commercial interests.

To support this demand, several colonies passed laws mandating hemp cultivation by landowners. More than a vocation, it was considered a duty, and by the early 1700s failing to meet your obligation could land you in prison. The history of hemp shows it was as important to the colonies as a cash crop as tobacco and other fibers, with a demand from England that easily outstripped production.

After the revolutionary war, hemp remained an important part of our history. Many of our founding fathers, including George Washington, cultivated hemp, having been landowners. They recognized its continued value and encouraged further cultivation. By the federal census of 1850, there were over 8,400 hemp farms and plantations of 2,000 acres or more.

History Of Hemp In Industry

Hemp rope and materials were already a staple of the economy, but as the industrial revolution took off, hemp was poised to drive progress. When Rudolf Diesel created an engine that could run on seed oils, including hemp oil, it caught international attention, with the great minds of the time, including Henry Ford, turned their attention to the potentials hemp brought to the new, modern age.

Close-up of large, bundled up hemp rope

This attention may have led to hemp’s downfall. While up to this point, the history of hemp had been one of acceptance and progress, the early 1900s saw a change of course as it became seemingly inextricably linked with its psychoactive cousin in the cannabis family, marijuana. It is disputed that a smear campaign was begun at the behest of Andrew Mellon, Randolph Hearst, and/or the Du Pont family.

Andrew Mellon was Secretary of the Treasury from 1921 until early 1932, one of the wealthiest men in the world, and heavily invested in new synthetic fibers, such as those made by the Du Pont family. Randolph Hearst, meanwhile, had extensive timber holdings and may have felt threatened by hemp’s use in textiles, paper, and construction. Whatever the reason, through his newspaper empire, Hearst began to paint marijuana and hemp as the same plant, ignoring the longstanding history of hemp and, instead, painted it as a dangerous narcotic favored by degenerates and minorities.

This successful campaign led to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This placed a heavy tax on cannabis cultivation and set a precedent for the history of hemp in America that industrial hemp and marijuana be treated the same. The profitable production and sale of hemp became almost impossible–as intended.

Hemp Goes To War

Hemp experienced a brief resurgence during WWII as wartime made materials necessary to the war effort scarce. The government-controlled War Hemp Industries was founded to subsidize strategic hemp production for the war effort, but after the war, hemp resumed its steady decline. By the time the Controlled Substances Act was passed in 1970, effectively banning hemp and placing cannabis on the list of Class 1 controlled substances, it looked like the history of hemp was over for the United States.

The (Re)Rise of Industrial Hemp

In an odd symmetry, the familial relation that made industrial hemp guilty by association was also instrumental in returning it to public awareness. As more and more Americans began to evaluate the potential for marijuana’s use in medicine, a new generation began to learn about the low-THC variant of cannabis, Cannabis sativa L.: industrial hemp. Curious parties who had never been subjected to the smear campaign of Reefer Madness started investigating the history of hemp and found that a vital crop, respected for thousands of years, had been all but excised from public awareness.

Bowing to increased social pressure from constituents that refused to believe the propaganda of previous generations, the 2014 Farm Bill saw the first steps toward the identification of a measurable distinction between industrial hemp and marijuana and legalization of industrial hemp and products derived from it, including CBD oil. The creation of pilot programs allowed forward-thinking states to once again allow farmers to grow domestic industrial hemp, manufacturers to explore its use in a variety of products, and consumers to find those products at retail establishments.

With the 2018 Farm Bill, an important milestone in the history of hemp, legalization of industrial hemp is complete, and it has returned with a vengeance. Its potent oils pack beauty aisles and health food stores, it’s fibers are set to revolutionize construction and clothing, and hemp biofuel promises a stable, sustainable natural fuel source. It’s an exciting time to be in the business of hemp, and we’re honored to be here, guiding Americans toward high-quality products that help support and promote wellness. Take a look at our industrial hemp-derived CBD products and explore the benefits for yourself with Core CBD today.

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