For centuries, hemp was cultivated in North America for its fibers used in the manufacture of ropes and textiles. But in 1937, it was declared illegal due to its association with marijuana, a victim of the War on Drugs. William Randolph Hearst, a newspaper mogul, knew that hemp paper was a much more efficient process than using trees and this posed a serious threat to his industry. So, he used his platform to demonize hemp.
Two weeks ago, the North Carolina House of Representatives and Senate approved a bill that would legalize industrial hemp production in the state. The Drug Enforcement Administration has granted several dozen permits to grow hemp in nine states, including Kentucky.
HEMP for Victoryis a 14-minute black-and-white film designed to encourage farmers to grow hemp during World War II. It was thought to be a myth until the late 1980s when a group of hemp activists found copies of the video in the archives of the Library of Congress.
Hemp fabric has a silky texture that is more porous than cotton, allows it to take on dyes better and is more durable. Hemp oil penetrates better than flaxseed oil and has been used as an industrial lubricant. According to a February 1938 edition of Popular Mechanics, hemp was about to become a multi-billion dollar crop before the Marijuana Tax Act. Henry Ford designed a car panel with a plastic derived from straw, pine, hemp and ramie to help farmers during the Great Depression.
Hemp is also naturally resistant to harmful insects and weeds, eliminating the need for pesticides and improving soil quality. The use of hemp as a cloth to wrap babies and cover the bodies of the dead was mentioned in the Confucian sacred texts known as the “Book of Rites”. Hemp is not marijuana, but its resemblance to its cousin cannabis has kept the plant banned in the United States for decades despite its variety of uses for textiles, food, cosmetics and other purposes. The federal ban on marijuana continues despite advances being made through federal hemp policy and state marijuana laws. Hemp production was banned across the United States in 1937 with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. Federal policies reinforced by the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 virtually banned industrial hemp production during the war on drugs.