For being such a useful plant, hemp has been embroiled in an on-again-off-again relationship with the United States. Hemp has been consistently outperforming other materials, and while people get excited about something new every now and again, hemp always seems to make a comeback.
The Many Uses Of Hemp
Hemp is an amazingly versatile plant. It is durable, strong, and great for making cordage (twine, rope, yarn) out of. When the pioneers were tugging covered wagons across America, it was hemp that was covering those wagons! Hemp can be made into fabrics, sponges, shoes.
Hemp also has nutritional value. It can be eaten, or made into a milk alternative. Plus, growing hemp doesn’t deplete soil the way that cotton does, and it takes less water to grow.
And of course, hemp plants are often associated with CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in cannabis that is harvested and used in many products to relieve bodily pain. Hemp plants do contain a very small amount of THC, but less than 0.3%.
In The Beginning
Hemp originally grew wild in China, its first record of use dates back to a rope pattern found on pottery from 10,000 years ago.
Because of Spanish colonization, hemp first arrived in North America in 1545. It grows wild in open patches of land in the Midwest, and is known as “Ditchweed” and “Ragweed”.
By 1616 settlers were growing hemp in Jamestown to make ropes, sails for boats, and clothes.
In the 1700s farmers were ordered to grow hemp by the government as a staple crop. Even George Washington was hip to growing hemp.
The first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper in 1776, and about a hundred years later Abraham Lincoln was using hemp to light his household lamps in 1840.
The Marihuana Tax Act
For the first time in US history, people started to question the negative aspects of cannabis. In 1910 the Mexican Revolution was in full swing, and with it came many immigrants into the American Southwest.
Blame was placed upon those of Mexican descent for “introducing” the concept of smoking cannabis, but we know that America has a messy history of blaming immigrants for its own problems. The United States started “protecting” people from the dangers of smoking cannabis, but mostly saw an opportunity to make a bunch of money.
The “Marihuana Tax Act” was implemented in 1937. This law didn’t ban use or possession of cannabis, but instead added a tax on the sale of any form of cannabis or hemp. If someone was selling or buying hemp without paying the yearly tax of $24, the penalty was a fine of $2,000 or five years in prison.
The Marihuana Tax Act was the first time “marijuana” was used as a term for hemp and cannabis plants in the US.
Hemp For Victory
By the time World War II was in full swing, there was a need for resources. In 1940 the United States Government released an educational film called, “Hemp For Victory” with the intent to inspire and educate farmers on the benefits of growing hemp.
The Marihuana Tax Act was temporarily disbanded while the war effort was under way, but once the US Navy had the hemp ropes they needed, the tax act was reinstated.
The US government denied ever having made this film, but at the time it made quite an impact. In 1942 the government requested that a group of patriotic farmers plant 36,000 acres of hemp to meet the needs of the United States armed services in their war efforts.
Plans were made to greatly expand the hemp industry, however after the war these intentions were forgotten and cheaper fabrics like: jute, nylon, and plastics came into play.
The War On Drugs
A rise in drug use from the 1960s prompted Richard Nixon to target substance abuse as his political touchstone.
“Drug abuse is public enemy number one/I am not a crook!”
-Famous quotes from Richard Nixon (not said at the same time)
In 1970 the Controlled Substances Act was signed into effect and with it, put a statute in place calling for the regulation of mind altering substances. Thus began The War On Drugs.
In 1971 the government began an initiative to stop illegal drug use, trade, and distribution by threatening prison sentences for dealers and users alike. Mostly this affected people of color in unfair proportions.
Known as “The emperor of hemp” Jack Herer was an outspoken advocate for the decriminalization of cannabis in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. Herer touted hemp as a miracle plant, boasting it’s abilities to act as: a renewable source of fuel, medicine, food, fiber, paper and pulp.
Jack Herer believed that the United States government was keeping knowledge of the benefits of cannabis and hemp from its citizens on purpose.
The legality of cannabis has had many ebbs and flows in the last 100 years, but the practicality of hemp is undeniable.
Hemp has been around forever and it’s not going anywhere. Literally, hemp grows on the side of the road, and you can’t arrest a plant for doing it’s thing.