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History Of Hemp

History Of Hemp

It’s easy to think of hemp as relatively modern; after all, it’s a plant whose utilities have always extended far beyond its popular association with cannabis culture. In actuality, hemp is thousands of years old, and has been part of the fabric of American and international life since the days of George Washington – and long before that, as well.

From Ancient Times To The Present

In 8,000 BCE, hemp was used in areas of what is now China and Taiwan for various cultural purposes. Its seeds and oil were also used in the preparation of various regional dishes. Hemp was later discovered in Russia in 600 BCE, and even later in Greece. The Chinese used hemp to make paper in 100 BCE. Even the Vikings were known to use hemp rope! Hemp paper mills began to flourish across Asia and the Middle East during this time. In 1533, King Henry VIII would tax farmers who were resistant to growing the plant – that’s how resourceful it was.

Hemp became even more useful in the early 17th century in English-American settlements, where it was often used to make sails, clothing, and other homegrown goods. Laws in America at the time stipulated that farmers were required to grow hemp for the many purposes it served in the country’s Colonial era. Many early presidents were also familiar with hemp. Thomas Jefferson had personal hemp crops, while Washington grew the plant at Mount Vernon for his own industrial purposes.

The War On CBD

In the late 1930’s, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was drafted by Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics at the time, and introduced to the public by Robert L. Doughton. At first, the goal of the act was to tax cannabis manufacturers and place regulations and restrictions on the sale of cannabis sativa. Allegedly, those in the Bureau had begun to notice that American civilians were smoking marijuana recreationally and not always using it for the practical purposes for which it had long been reputed. The earliest marijuana convictions were for not paying the “marihuana” tax, and things soon escalated to there being serious charges for possessing or dealing cannabis.

The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937, in a sense, kick-started the era of cannabis prohibition in America. Obviously, this deeply affected those who had begun to grow and cultivate hemp for their own professional or industrial purposes. Anti-marijuana sentiment was on the rise, and cannabis in general became synonymous with transgressive lifestyles. Before long, derogatory slang terms like “hopheads” and “reefer” began to enter the popular American vernacular.

Hemp's Wartime Use

WWII temporarily altered America’s collective standpoint on hemp, at least to some degree. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States’ regular supply of hemp from the Philippines was cut off. A government film titled, “Hemp for Victory” was then produced with the hopes that American farmers would get their hemp crops back up and running so as to add fuel to the fire of America’s ongoing wartime economy. It is estimated that United States farmers grew thousands upon thousands of acres of hemp across the country as part of the “Hemp for Victory” initiative.

During wartime, imported hemp had become a hard-to-find commodity, and America’s regular partners in the hemp trade – who had once been in the Philippines – became the Japanese. In this regard, hemp was a boost to the WWII effort, at least on the domestic front. Of course, as the war drew to a close, “Hemp for Victory” was quietly shut down and forgotten about, and anti-hemp sentiment once again took over the country.

Bittersweet Public Image

Jumping forward a few decades: in the early 1970’s, hemp was classified as a Schedule I narcotic, at which point an even tougher crackdown began. A Schedule I narcotic status meant that hemp, and cannabis in general, was now deemed a mind-altering drug on the same level as heroin and cocaine. Hemp farming was no longer something that was encouraged or socially acceptable. At this point, cannabis became a symbol of the burgeoning American counterculture, something that self-proclaimed “flower children” and postwar insurgents used to rebel against the stifling constraints that they languished under during the more repressive 1950’s.

In the 1990’s, certain states permitted hemp farmers to grow at the industrial level, although hemp remained federally illegal throughout this time. In 2001, the DEA sought to make all hemp-based food products federally illegal. Contrast this with 2012 where, in Canada, a record number of industrial hemp crops were seeded (industrial hemp has been legal in Canada for some time). In 2013, it was reported that yearly domestic retail hemp sales exceeded profits of over five hundred million dollars.

Regaining Ground

By 2004, certain businesses were granted the privilege of importing specific industrial hemp products to the United States. Most of the products that this statute would theoretically affect were of the body care or dietary variety. Ten years later, President Barack Obama signed the Farm Bill, also known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, which granted a form of limited legal status to hemp farmers and manufacturers, who had long been viewed as social pariahs. The Farm Bill also ensured affordable rates for formidable American crops like corn and soy. It also ensured that lower-income Americans were entitled to basic social services, such as food stamps. This ushered in a more tolerant, level-headed approach to hemp plants as a staple and fabric of American life.

The Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate the following year. Since then, farmers have begun to steadily increase the outgrowth of their crops, much of which has resulted in hemp being converted into hemp extract, or CBD oil. Individual states have different laws on hemp cultivation, but here in California, there are no current restrictions on industrial hemp growth – provided the growers subject themselves to the required forms of agricultural inspection.

The Future Of Hemp

Obviously, the DEA still retains a considerable degree of control over hemp manufacturing in the U.S., even as trailblazing hemp companies like Manitoba Harvest have continued to rise in popularity and profit. As of now, the CBD industry is subject to ever-evolving regulation by the Food and Drug Administration. There is still a stigma around hemp in the industrial sector as well as popular culture, although that stigma is diminishing as we continue to learn about the many practical advantages that hemp has offered our global society throughout history.

Who knows what the future holds for hemp in America! After reading this, we hope you’ve learned a little bit more about its past. As always, thank you for reading! 

7th Apr 2020 CBD.co staff

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