Today, many people consider Hemp a controversy due to its illegality, but in fact, Hemp has only been criminalized within the United States for less than 90 years, while the history of Hemp dates all the way back 10,000 plus years ago to the Stone Age (around 8,000 BCE). Let us briefly dig through Hemp’s roots.
The earliest ever evidence of Cannabis Sativa being utilized came from a piece of pottery unearthed in Taiwan, off the coast of China. It appeared that the pottery was imprinted using Hemp fibers. Along with Hemp cord, China was also recorded to be the first to use Hemp seeds and Hemp seed oil as food in 6,000 BCE and Hemp textiles around 4,000 BCE. By the year 2737 BCE, emperor Shen Nung, the father of Chinese medicine, was the first to declare Ma’ (Cannabis in Chinese) as medicine in his pharmacological book, “The Herbal.” As it turns out, Hemp played a very significant role in Chinese and other eastern cultures.
Beginning around 2,000 BCE, Hemp spread all throughout the Eastern hemisphere. It was noted by several influential doctors including Neros Army physician, Pedanius Dioscorides, Chinese sergeon, Hua T’o, Greek physician, Galen, French physician, Rabelais, Portugese physician, Garcia Da Orta, and Chinese pharmacologist, Li Shih-Chen, and it was listed in many religious literatures including the Chinese book of rites, Li Chi, the Hindu sacred text, Atharuaveda, the Persian text, the Zoroastrian Zendavesta, and the Jewish Talmud. It was used for seed/oil, cord, paper, textile, rope and sail, hashish, medicine, and as ritual offerings among other cultural uses.
Hemp in the United States is traced back to the early 1600s. French colonists in South Carolina, Virginia and Massachusetts began to cultivate Hemp for its fiber, and by the 1700s, even George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were growing and advocating Hemp. Throughout the 1800s, Cannabis was listed in the U.S. pharmacopeia (1850) and it was a widely used medicinal drug, easily available at pharmacies and convenience stores. Up until the 1900s, Hemp was a very important commodity among the states.
The turn of the century is when the U.S. government started to interfere. First, in 1906, the U.S. Pure Food and Drug Act was put into effect to regulate labeling of alcohol, opiates, Cocaine, Cannabis, etc. In 1914, the Harrison Act imposed a tax for anyone generally dealing with Coca and Opium, and although it was not directed toward Cannabis Sativa specifically, this bill created a model for the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937.
During the 1930s, Harry J. Anslinger, Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and William Randolph Hearst, U.S. newspaper and media tycoon whom invested heavily in the timber industry, began falsifying “Marijuana” to be the cause of insanity and criminality; publishing stories of horrific exaggeration through Hearst’s very own newspaper media company. This set the scene for Reefer Madness, a short 1936 film that also claimed outrageous side effects of Marijuana, including: mania, sexual compromise, and murder. Around the same time Cannabis began to be demonized by the media, the development of Opium-derived drugs such as Aspirin and Morphine were introduced, and as states began enacting laws to regulate “Marijuana,” Cannabis treatments quietly faded away. Promoted by Harry J. Anslinger, the Marihuana Tax Act, which imposed registration, reports, and heavy taxation requirements on growers, sellers, and buyers of Cannabis, was put into effect in October of 1937. It was tedious, expensive and unfair, and farmers eventually began to switch to other crops to avoid the hassle.
Soon after the placement of the tax, America went full force into World War II and the government temporarily excused and even encouraged farmers to grow Hemp for war supplies through their “Hemp for Victory” campaign in 1942. Unfortunately, when the war ended, Hemp was no longer allowed to be cultivated. In 1970, President Richard Nixon passed the Controlled Substances Act, which forced the manufacture, importation, distribution, possession, and use of substances including narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, and anabolic steroids to be heavily regulated. The substances were scheduled by medicinal value and potential for dependence, supposedly. Cannabis was listed as a Schedule 1 drug, having “no current accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” and because Hemp was classified with Marijuana, it was finally outlawed in the U.S. completely.
Hemp has evolved with us since the beginning of civilization. No one can deny the versatility that Hemp provides, but ironically, our government has denied us the right to cultivate it on our own. Hemp remains legal to cultivate in other countries and as of today, we import most of our raw Hemp from Canada, Europe, and China. Hemp advocates have not stopped working to educate, normalize, and relegalize access to domestic Hemp.
Fortunately, because of the growing demand, the government is progressing toward a Hemp friendly future. 2014 was an especially important year for Hemp history. The 2014 Federal Farm Bill, section 7606 legitimized industrial Hemp research, and with that, Kentucky, Vermont, and Colorado became the first states to grow Hemp since the start of the prohibition. In 2015, 5,000 acres of U.S. Hemp were cultivated for research, and by 2016, 10,000 acres were cultivated! As of today, February 2017, over 30 states, plus Puerto Rico, have passed pro-Hemp legislations, including 14 states legal to grow and process industrial Hemp for research and commercial uses, and 7 more states legal to grow solely for research purposes.
Thanks to everyone fighting for and supporting the Hemp and Cannabis industries. Individual state governments and the federal United States government are finally beginning to accept Hemp’s legitimacy as a sustainable, resourceful cash crop. However, our fight is not over until Hemp is legal for everyone to grow, without restrictions. We can show our admiration and support in several ways, including purchasing Hemp products over non-Hemp products, writing to government officials informing them about why Hemp needs to be legalized and urging them to do so, starting a Hemp based business, or simply by sparking a conversation about it. Hemp’s roots in history run deep, now let us continue the legacy and help the Hemp industry grow strong.