The History of Hemp in the United States

by | Jun 4, 2019 | 0 comments

Hemp, it’s versatile, durable and easily grown. While industrial hemp is NOT used as a drug, it’s still been illegal and had little opportunity for growth in the United States for nearly 100 years. Most people know about hemp but more often than not it’s assumed to be the same as it’s sister plant, marijuana, when nothing could be further from the truth. So lets take a little trip back in time and look at the history of hemp and learn a little more about what I think is the United States most misunderstood plant.
Did you know that there’s cord made from hemp that dates clear back to 8,000 BCE? That means that 10,000 years ago hemp was being grown and harvested. Records show that even the seeds and oils were being used back then. So it’s pretty safe to say that from roughly the time humans started to farm, hemp was on their list of crops.

“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. (The full article can be found here:

So how did Hemp come to be a crop in North America? Although it isn’t widely known, it’s likely that hemp was already naturally growing in North America before it was colonized. In the 16th century Jacques Cartier, a French explorer, wrote that the land was “frill of hempe which groweth of itselfe, which is as good as possibly may be scene, and as strong.” So this means that once the settlers landed here hemp was already readily available. It’s also been said that the farming of hemp could have been taught to the settlers by the Native Americans who had been doing it for years prior. Hemp was one of the staples that started the nation. “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.” (Ministry of Hemp: History of Hemp)


But things took a turn for hemp in 1937 when the “marijuana tax act” was put into effect, which meant that all hemp sales were taxed to a high rate and made it virtually impossible to legally grow in the united states. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively made possession or transfer of marihuana illegal throughout the United States under federal law, excluding medical and industrial uses, through imposition of an excise tax on all sales of hemp. Annual fees were $24 ($637 adjusted for inflation) for importers, manufacturers, and cultivators of cannabis, $1 ($24 adjusted for inflation) for medical and research purposes, and $3 ($82 adjusted for inflation) for industrial users. Detailed sales logs were required to record marihuana sales. Selling marihuana to any person who had previously paid the annual fee incurred a tax of $1 per ounce or fraction thereof; however, the tax was $100 ($2,206 adjusted for inflation) per ounce or fraction thereof to sell any person who had not registered and paid the annual fee.” (From the Legal History of Hemp:


In time people began to suspect that the tax was aimed at hemp in hopes to help the plastics and nylon industries grow. In fact just months before the magazine Popular Mechanics had claimed that hemp was the next “billion dollar crop” but it’s chances were cut short. In 1942 there was hope for hemp again when during WW II it was legally produced again to help aid the war efforts.


“World War II provided a new chance. The 1942 Japanese invasion of the Philippines cut the U.S. off from their major source of imported hemp. To meet demand for war production, the U.S. and Canadian governments lifted restrictions. Until the end of the war, farmers with special permits grew hemp to supply the war effort. To encourage farmers to grow hemp during this period, the United States Department of Agriculture released the film “Hemp for Victory”. It stated, “In 1942, patriotic farmers at the government’s request planted 36,000 acres of seed hemp, an increase of several thousand per cent. The goal for 1943 is 50,000 acres of seed hemp. However, the ban on growing hemp remained after the Second World War.” (Full article can be found here: Unfortunately, yet again Hemp had to take to the sidelines.


Legally, things stayed about the same for quite a while until 1970 when the Controlled Substance Act lumped ALL cannabis plants into one and put them on the Substance I list along with  heroin, LSD, peyote, and ecstacy. This didn’t technically make industrial hemp illegal, it just meant that growers had to get a special permit through the DEA.


If you’re a little more a visual thinker this hemp history timeline The Ministry of Hemp has made gives a very detailed look at the path that hemp took from 8,000 BCE to 2015 and can be found their website. (Ministry of Hemp: History 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

Since 2016, the 2018 Farm Bill has been signed and put into effect. This removes federal restrictions and legalizes the farming of industrial hemp in the United states. This summary is directly from the website the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, which was included in the 2018 Farm Bill. “This bill legalizes industrial hemp that has a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana) concentration of no more than 0.3% by removing it from schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. States and Indian tribes may regulate the production of hemp by submitting a plan to the Department of Agriculture (USDA). The bill also makes hemp producers eligible for the federal crop insurance program and certain USDA research grants.”(


With the passing for the Hemp Farming Act we hope for amazing things to come in the industrial hemp industry which would make hemp products more affordable and attainable across the US. The economical and environmental benefits that would come of these changes could mean amazing things for our country and planet!


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