History of Hemp: 80 Years of Purgatory

More Than 80 Years Of Purgatory:

Why The Industrial Hemp Solution Is Still Suppressed

So what has the history of hemp entailed thus far? For the most part, Americans remain uninformed about industrial hemp, despite the fact that it once flourished as a crop in the U.S. They often are unaware that industrial hemp cannot get you high. And it’s very unlikely they realize that since its prohibition in the 1930s, the U.S. has been importing hemp and hemp products from other industrialized nations.

But once people learn about industrial hemp, it’s impossible to see it as anything but a natural resource with a shocking amount of applications and benefits to humanity. Industrial hemp can be used to make anything from anti-inflammatories to hempcrete—a non-toxic, mold-, fire- and pest-resistant building material. American manufacturers, farmers and the environment would greatly benefit from its cultivation in the U.S.

Throughout the history of hemp, there have been small strongholds of drug warriors determined to keep this non-psychoactive, versatile plant that could change the world on many levels illegal. Section 7606 of the 2014 Farm Bill allows for the crop to be grown under strict regulations and, of course, only in states where it is legal. But hemp is still a Schedule I drug, and in some cases, the DEA is still bullying growers, consumers, and even manufacturers of foods containing hemp.

But U.S. consumers are demanding hemp products, farmers want to grow industrial hemp, and legislators on both sides of the isle want to decriminalize hemp in the U.S. The history of hemp is on the brink of change...and for the better!

The History of Hemp & the Millenniums of Utility

Although hemp has been the talk of the town recently, the history of hemp goes back to the beginning of time. Industrial hemp has grown on our planet since before the dinosaurs! Remnants of hemp cloth have been discovered in what was ancient Mesopotamia dating back 8,000 years. Hemp fiber is believed to have been used in several ways to construct the pyramids in Egypt. China has been cultivating hemp for over 6,000 years for many uses, including clothing and paper.

In 1492, Columbus found his way to the Americas on ships fitted with sails and ropes made of hemp. Our own Declaration of Independence was drafted and signed on hemp paper in 1776. During the 14th and 15th centuries, Renaissance artists painted on hemp canvas. And in the 17th century, Dutch masters, such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh, created their masterpieces on canvases made from hemp. The word “canvas” is derived from “cannabis.”

Chances are, when you look at a preserved document from history, when you marvel over a Van Gogh hanging in a museum, or when you absorb accounts of world explorers sailing around our planet, hemp was involved.

The U.S.’s Unstable Relationship with Industrial Hemp

In 1916, USDA botanist Lyster Dewey proved that hemp produced four times the paper per acre than trees. It’s this kind of efficiency that has farmers across the U.S. eager to grow industrial hemp. They know that, compared to wheat, it uses half the water and will quadruple their income.

In 1930s America, the history of hemp took a turn for the worse with the Reefer Madness Campaign. This campaign spread fear about marijuana by using propaganda to insist that the drug prompted Mexicans and black jazz musicians to engage in socially threatening behavior. Because of this hide-your-daughter hysteria, industrial hemp was lumped in with marijuana, and the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 severely limited cultivation of industrial hemp. By the end of the decade, the crop was no longer being produced in the U.S.

However, in 1942, the U.S. government enacted an entirely different campaign, which it called “Hemp for Victory.”For the war effort, farmers were encouraged to grow hemp, because the U.S.’s oversea industrial fibers supply, including Manila hemp, had been cut off by the Japanese.

“Hemp for Victory” was also the title of a short film produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the purpose of which was to instruct farmers on how to grow hemp in the U.S. It was mandatory for all farmers to view it, and 4H kids in Kentucky were recruited to help grow hemp seeds.

In this film, which can be viewed online and for which there is a link provided in the references following this article, the USDA blatantly lies about several facts, but namely that:

  1. “The culture of hemp in America declined because cheaper imported materials came about.” This is untrue to this day, when manufacturers have to charge more for products made from imported hemp.
  2. The film conveniently does not mention the previous decade, when it demonized hemp along with marijuana and prohibited farmers from growing it.
  3. The film insists that the U.S could not get it’s other-than-hemp industrial products from overseas, such as jute, because Japan had cut off their supplies. However, later in the film, sailors of the U.S. Navy are shown using Manila hemp rope, the supply of which was about to run out, and which was the impetus for growing hemp in the U.S. again.

These falsehoods along with the fact that, until copies emerged in 1989, the U.S. government vehemently deniedmaking the film and its existence, prove that misleading propaganda about marijuana and industrial hemp has been employed by our government. It is no wonder that such a negative connotation of both plants remains entrenched in our cultural view.

Bringing Hemp Home

Today, many industrialized countries reap the benefits of cultivating industrial hemp. More than 30 nations grow hemp as an agricultural commodity and bring it to the world market. And the U.S. is a major importer. On the global market hemp contributes more than 25,000 products in nine submarkets:

  • agriculture
  • textiles
  • recycling
  • automotive
  • furniture
  • food and beverages
  • paper
  • construction materials
  • personal care

In 2017, U.S. hemp imports—consisting of seeds and fibers for manufacturing—were $67.3 million. U.S. sales of hemp products were $700 million in 2016. One only has to imagine the cascade of benefits from cultivating safe, regulated industrial hemp on home soil.

Because U.S. consumers, manufacturers, businesses, farmers and legislators are more and more demanding the right to grow, produce, take to market and use this once abundant natural resource, the effort to bring hemp home is well under way. But the last holdouts against it—fearful drug warriors and special interest lobbyists—must be assuaged into the ineffectual murmurs of outdated policy where they now belong.

This will happen only if we educate the general population about industrial hemp. If we research and gain more knowledge about how it can be used to treat diseases and disorders. If we begin to explore all of its uses that can contribute to humans living healthier, more sustainable lives. There is no reason why humanity should not benefit from all that industrial hemp has to offer. The only existing argument against it is still derived from a racist propaganda film from the 1930s. It's time to move on. Like I said before—the history of hemp is on the brink of change, and how exciting it is for us to witness it!


Miller, Stuart. “Hemp: how one little plant could boost America’s economy.” The Guardian. 4 February 2017. Web. Accessed 9 July 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/feb/04/Hemp-plant-that-could-boost-americas-economy

Burkey, Dave. “Some Interesting Facts About Hempcrete As a Building Material.” National Hemp Association. 30 March 2016 Web. Accessed 10 July 2018.


“The People’s History.” The Thistle. Sept./Oct. 2000. Web. Accessed 9 July 2018. http://www.mit.edu/~thistle/v13/2/history.html

“Oil Art.” The Art Handbook. Web. Accessed 10 July 2018. http://www.art-handbook.com/surfaces.html

Fine, Doug. “A tip for American farmers: Grow hemp, make money.” Los Angeles Times. 25

June 2014. Web. 13 June 2018. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-fine-hemp-marijuana-legalize-20140626-story.html

The USDA. “Hemp for Victory.” Youtube. Web. Accessed 10 July 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d3rolyiTPr0

Hogeye, Bill. “The Rise and Fall of Marijuana.” Ozarkia.net. Web. Accessed 10 July 2018. http://www.ozarkia.net/bill/pot/RiseFallMarijuana.html

Johnson, Renee. “Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity.” Congressional Research Service. Fas.org. 22 June 2018. Web. Accessed 10 July 2018. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32725.pdf

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