Hemp’s Humble Origins
“It would be wryly interesting if in human history the cultivation of marijuana led generally to the invention of agriculture, and thereby to civilization.”
– Carl Sagan, an American scientist
Key to Human Civilization
The first traces of hemp were found way back in 8000 BCE in Asian regions that are now modern day China and Taiwan. The oldest remnants discovered to date are hemp cords used in pottery and records that show that hemp seed and oil were used as food in China. When you consider that human agriculture started about 10,000 years ago, you can assume that hemp was one of the first agricultural crops.
Spreading Across Continents
Throughout history, hemp continued to spread across civilizations. Evidence of hemp material have been found in Asia, Europe, Africa, and later in South America. Several religious documents ranging from Hinduism to ancient Persian religions also mention hemp as a “Sacred Grass” or “King of Seeds”. Throughout generations, hemp was a key ingredient in everyday life, as it was used to daily essentials such as clothes, shoes, ropes, and paper.
Loved by our Founding Fathers
North America was first introduced to hemp in 1606. Ever since, American farmers grew hemp that was used across multiple different products, such as paper, lamp fuels, and ropes. In the 1700s, farmers were even legally required to grow hemp as a staple crop. Many of our founding fathers grew hemp and advocated its uses and benefits. Most notably, Thomas Jefferson wrote the draft of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.
World Timeline of Hemp
- 8,000 BCE: Traces of hemp have been found in modern day China and Taiwan. Evidence shows that hemp was used for pottery and food (seed & oil)
- 2,000 BCE – 800 BCE: Hindu sacred text Atharvaveda (Science of Charms) as “Sacred Grass”, one of the five sacred plants of India
- 600 BCE: Hemp rope is found in southern Russia
- 500 BCE: a jar of hemp seed and leaves were found in Berlin, Germany. Use of hemp continues to spread across northern Europe
- 200 BCE: Hemp rope is found in Greece
- 100 BCE: China uses hemp to make paper100: Hemp rope is found in Britain
- 570: A French Queen was buried in hemp clothing
- 850: Vikings use hemp and spread it to Iceland
- 900: Arabs adopt technology to make hemp paper
- 1533: King Henry VIII, king of England, fines farmers if they do not raise hemp
- 1549: Cannabis is introduced in South America (Brazil)
- 1616: Jamestown, first permanent English settlement in the Americas, grows hemp to make ropes, sails, and clothing
- 1700s: American farmers in several colonies are required by law to grow hemp
- 1776: The Declaration of Independence is drafted up on hemp paper
- 1840: Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps.
- 1916: USDA publishes findings that show hemp produces 4X more paper per acre than trees
- 1937: The Marijuana Tax Act placed a tax on all cannabis sales (including hemp), heavily discouraging the production of hemp
- 1938: Popular Mechanics writes an article about how hemp could be used in 25,000 different products.
- 1942: Henry Ford builds an experimental car body made with hemp fiber, which is ten times stronger than steel
- 1942: USDA initiates the “Hemp for Victory” program – this leads to more than 150,000 acres of hemp production
- 1957: The last commercial hemp fields in the US were planted in Wisconsin
- 1970: the Controlled Substances Act classified hemp as an illegal Schedule I drug, which imposed strict regulations on the cultivation of industrial hemp as well as marijuana
- 1998: The U.S. begins to import food-grade hemp seed and oil.
- 2004: Ninth Circuit Court decision in Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA permanently protects sales of hemp foods and body care products in the U.S.
- 2007: The first hemp licenses in over 50 years are granted to two North Dakota farmers.
- 2014: President Obama signed the Farm Bill, which allowed research institutions to start piloting hemp farming.
- 2015: The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134) was introduced in the House and Senate. If passed, it would remove all federal restrictions on industrial hemp and legalize its cultivation.
- 2016: A Colorado farm has earned the Organic certification from USDA for its hemp
Hemp in the 20th Century
The United States went from a staunch supporter of hemp to completely banning it in the 1970s
Marijuana Tax Act discourages Production
Although hemp was a big part of early US history, attitude towards the crop started to change in the early 1900s. When the US government increased its resolve to fight against drugs such as marijuana, hemp somehow got grouped with its cannabis cousin. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 started the major decline of the hemp industry, as all hemp sales started to get heavily taxed on. There has been some controversy over this bill, as some have argued that this policy was aimed to reduce the size of the hemp industry in order to help the emerging plastic and nylon industries gain market share.
US realizes need for Hemp in WWII
The United States reversed its stance in 1942 when they realized they needed hemp for the war effort. The Department of Agriculture started to heavily promote hemp and started publishing various benefits that hemp offered (i.e. findings that hemp produces 4 times more paper per acre than trees). The peak of the hemp promotion was when the US government released a pro-hemp documentary called Hemp for Victory , which encouraged farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp to support the war. This led to over 400,000 acres of hemp being planted during 1942-1945
Drug War leads to the Demise of Hemp
Shortly after this program, the US government went back to its original stance on hemp again and the industry continued to decline. Other alternative sources, such as plastic and nylon, were encourages across multiple industries. This led to fewer farmers cultivating hemp and many hemp processors declaring bankruptcy. The last commercial hemp farm in the US was planted in Wisconsin in 1957. Hemp farming was eventually officially banned altogether in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act in which hemp was included as a Schedule 1 drug, grouping this crop with drugs like heroin and LSD.
Hemp for Victory
The peak of US hemp farming was during World War II when the US government promoted hemp through its “Hemp for Victory” program, which encouraged farmers throughout the Midwest and Southeast to grow hemp to support the war.
Hemp Today & Looking To The Future
The people and our government are realizing hemp’s potential to make a positive impact on our health, economy and environment.
Hemp makes a comeback
After almost 30 years of being forbidden, the US allowed businesses to import dietary hemp products in 2004. In the new century, application of hemp started to diversify as hemp fiber was imported to be used for clothing and textiles. The first big win for US farmers came in 2007, when two North Dakota farmers were granted hemp licenses—the first time in over 50 years. Building on this, in 2014, the Farm Bill was signed into law, which allowed hemp cultivation as part of university research in states that permitted hemp farming.
The Hemp Movement Grows
In the past year, momentum for hemp has continued to grow. Many states have passed legislation to legalize hemp production under specific circumstances, such as research by academic or government institutions. To date, more than 33 states have introduced a hemp bill and 21 states have approved one. This number is looking to continue to grow in the near future. In 2015, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced at the federal level. If approved, this act will remove all restrictions and regulations on growing hemp.
A Promising Future
Although the Industrial Hemp Farming Act bill has yet to pass, it has been a big step forward for hemp in the United States. As states that are piloting hemp farming start harvesting their crops and see the impact it brings to its local economy, advocates of the hemp movement will have a stronger voice. Although we can’t be entirely sure of what the future will look like for hemp, it is exciting to see this crop make a comeback in our country. We hope to be part of this historical journey that will benefit our farmers, our health, and our environment.