The history of hemp is rather lengthy, but we’ll navigate through the biggest milestones of this plant for a quick, easy read. Hemp has tens of thousands of uses – really, it does. It’s expected that even more applications will be invented as the industry evolves even more in the U.S.
History of Hemp - The Early Days
The history of hemp dates back as far as 8000 BCE in what’s known now as Taiwan and China. Carbon dating made the traces of use of this plant known. Written records didn’t occur until centuries later. Many say that hemp is one of the very first agricultural crops.
In Egyptian history, the Goddess of Wisdom wrote on paper made only from hemp leaves. In Ancient Japan, hemp was used for medicinal purposes. The Japanese used the seeds and flower tops for therapeutic purposes.
Hemp didn’t make it to North America until the early 1600s. Both American and Indian colonies saw hemp as a “vital crop”. An order was issued that called for “aggressive cultivation”.
Fast forward one century to the 1700s and hemp was actually required as a staple crop for farmers. Several U.S. founding fathers grew hemp. They advocated for its production realizing how useful it is.
Thomas Jefferson wrote a draft of the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.
The History of Hemp: From Bustling Crop to Illegal
The history of hemp has been a volatile and dramatic one. The USDA even acknowledged that hemp is usable in at least 25,000 different products way back in 1916. In 1937 is when the trouble started. The Marihuana Tax Act rolled hemp and cannabis into one classification. It instilled a tax on all cannabis sales and with hemp being part of the Cannabis Sativa family – it was included too, so this discouraged hemp cultivation.
The next year, the publication Popular Mechanics, acknowledged that hemp is usable in at least 25,000 products. Of course, that number has increased now due to modernization, innovation and technology.
Despite the tricky nature of hemp, it didn’t stop Henry Ford from using the cellulose from hemp plants to help make part of a 1942 car out of material that included hemp. This is one of the first mentions of hemp plastic in the history of hemp. That same year, the “Hemp for Victory” program was initiated. This helped increase production to 150,000 acres in the U.S.
The decline of hemp began in 1957 as the very last commercial crops were planted in Wisconsin.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 is where things really went downhill for hemp. Hemp is a member of the cannabis plant family, so of course – the government just rolled both plants into one category and deemed both illegal.
The Revitalization of Hemp
Hemp is slowly being revitalized in the U.S. In 1998, hemp seed sand hemp seed oil were imported into the U.S. from elsewhere in the world. Then, an important 9th Circuit Court decision in 2004 gave permanent protection to the sales of hemp body care and food products.
The first actual licenses to cultivate hemp again in the U.S. were granted to 2 North Dakota farmers in 2007.
Swift progress has been made since then – especially when the 2014 Farm Bill was signed that allowed a hemp pilot program for research purposes.
The very first certified organic hemp crop from the USDA was named in Colorado in 2016.
The 2018 Farm Bill signifies another giant step forward for hemp. Its full potential is unknown but being able to access hemp and hemp products on U.S soil is a pretty big deal. It means that importing will reduce or stop and prices for hemp products will come down.
From this brief history of hemp, you can see that it’s been a rollercoaster ride for this versatile plant. The future of hemp, however, is very bright. Several states are implementing hemp cultivation programs and crops are expected to be planted in the coming months.