The Rise and Fall of Hemp: A Historical Perspective

Hemp has been used by humans since ancient times for various purposes such as food source or fiber production but why did US stop growing it? Read this article for an overview on why US stopped growing hemp.

The Rise and Fall of Hemp: A Historical Perspective

Hemp has a long and rich history around the world, having served as a source of food and feed, of oil and fiber, in religious contexts, as a pillar of naval power and as an important global product. But advances in metallurgy, textile processing, and materials science have not been kind to humble hemp. Despite all its uses, industrial hemp is a plant that requires a lot of labor for processing, is demanding on environmental conditions and requires fertile land to cultivate premium fields that could otherwise be used to grow food. The association between drug-addicted cannabis and industrial hemp led the latter to go from being a legal crop to an illegal crop, and then to a heavily regulated but legal crop on several occasions around the world.

It should be noted at this point that industrial hemp strains show low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD), which effectively prevents any psychoactive use of plants (i.e. Medical cannabis is obtained from strains of cannabis plants that were specifically cultivated to contain high levels of THC and low concentrations of CBD. Supporters of industrial hemp farms often try to draw attention to this point when discussing the legal framework surrounding the plant, as it invalidates much of the reasoning behind the regulation of hemp. Hemp's relationship with humans began sometime in the Stone Age in Asia, the plant's native area.

Hemp seeds dating back to 8000 BC have been found on the Japanese islands. C., suggesting that the plant was already known to the locals and that they recognized its possible uses. The archaeological evidence for its processing and use, hemp rope fingerprints on pottery produced in the Taiwan area dates back to the 5th millennium BC. Since string is a relatively refined product, this suggests that hemp already had a role to play in local economies and that people invested time and thought about processing it as a commodity and resource.

While the plant was known to people in northern latitudes in the Neolithic Age, evidence of its processing and use in Europe only emerged around the Iron Age. Hemp can be used as a base for a wide range of products. Initially, it was used as a food source in the form of plant parts and seeds, as an oil crop and as food for animals. Hemp develops quite quickly and is happy to grow in wild or semi-wild groups (provided the soil and climate are adequate) with relatively little effort to care for it.

Where industrial hemp really picked up the pace was when people discovered that they could use it for fiber and textiles. As we have seen before, this occurred very early in Asia; in the third millennium BC, people living in present-day China and Turkestan were already using it as a raw material for textiles, and it is believed that it was the basis of the first forms of paper. But the final product is stronger than spun wool or linen, and it eventually prevailed in the West as a source of durable cords and fabrics. European ships would eventually sail through the known (and unknown, at the time) world, and hemp ropes made that possible.

In the Age of Sailing, hemp was considered a strategic resource, possibly on par with what crude oil is seen today, and governments did everything possible to ensure access to hemp, ropes and rope. In another curious parallel with today's world, many countries in Europe (including Great Britain) were heavily dependent on imports from Russia to meet their domestic demand for this strategic resource. Duval explains that the American hemp industry was first established because the British Empire desperately wanted to own its own supply of hemp, but it turned out to be economically unviable. There were serious problems in establishing adequate production in the New World.

Initially, it was tried in areas where the climate was not right, so the harvests failed spectacularly. Later, the British made great efforts on the part of the government to encourage its growth, such as making hemp legal tender in most of the Americas from 1631 until they declared independence. This also failed spectacularly, because hemp simply didn't make enough money for farmers to grow it in a fun way due to government efforts by Britain to keep prices low for their Navy. By 1619, it was illegal not to grow hemp in Virginia.

Massachusetts and Connecticut adopted similar laws soon after while Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina (26%), South Carolina and New England offered attractive subsidies to farmers who grew hemp. However, it actually picked up in the south with slave trade. But historically speaking we know why industrial hemp production was banned across United States with passage of Marijuana Tax Act 1937: Federal policies reinforced by Controlled Substances Act 1970 during war on drugs.