The history of hemp in the US has been rocky, to say the least. America has both banned and vilified hemp, and been accepting, if not reliant, on the crop throughout its history. We’ll cover all of the dirty details about hemp in the US here in part two of our History of Hemp series.
The Early 1900s
Hemp was a crucial crop for early US history, with several colonies requiring mandatory hemp farming. Even though hemp was used primarily to make sails, clothing, ropes, and other textiles, US attitudes towards hemp started changing in the early 1900s. As the US government stepped up their fight against drugs like cannabis, hemp, unfortunately, got roped into that group. The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 initiated a tax on all hemp sales, and began the major decline of the hemp industry in America.
Although the main focus of the Tax Act was to target cannabis sales, it effectively inhibited industrial hemp production. There has been controversy over this policy by those who believe it was intended to target the hemp industry in order to bolster the growing plastic and nylon industries.
WWII: A Necessity for Hemp in the US
During World War 2 the US realized they would need hemp for the war effort. There was a shortage of fibers due to the hemp production of the Philippines and East Indies being controlled by the Japanese, and imports of jute from India were limited. These fibers were the ones the US needed for ropes, shoelaces, parachute webbing, etc. Although (after 1937) growing hemp was illegal on American soil, it would become a necessity, and the government knew it.
The Department of Agriculture began heavily promoting hemp, and started publishing information about its benefits, including findings that hemp produces 4 times more paper per acre than trees! At the height of the US government’s hemp promotion is a short propaganda video aimed at encouraging farmers to increase hemp production called “Hemp for Victory.” This promotion led to over 400,000 acres of hemp being planted between 1942-1945. The full short film has been included below.
No More Hemp in the US
Although the production of hemp in the US played a crucial role in the American victory, it was once again prohibited after the war. The government returned to its pre-war stance on hemp, and by 1970 it was included with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act. This meant that hemp was included as a Schedule 1 drug, grouping this useful crop with harsh drugs like heroin and LSD.
The government turned its back on hemp so harshly that they even tried to cover up their brief support of the crop. The American government tried to scrub the evidence of “Hemp for Victory” out of existence, removing it from government archives, and even asking college libraries to remove the film from their collections. As hemp activists looked for the film, they got responses from government officials like this one:
We contacted the Washington, DC office of the Department of Agriculture and also the Federal Audio Center and have been unable to locate any film with the title ‘Hemp for Victory’ that was produced by any department of the federal government.quoted in “The Great Book Of Hemp” by Rowan Robinson
For years, nobody could track down the existence of “Hemp for Victory.” However, after extensive searching, in 1989 cannabis activists Jack Herer, Maria Farrow, and Carl Packard tracked the film down and donated two VHS copies to the Library of Congress. Today you can find “Hemp for Victory” in the U.S. National Archives, under record number 1682.
Hemp Makes a Comeback
Hemp stayed absolutely illegal in the US for almost 30 years. Until, in 2004, the US allowed businesses to import dietary hemp products. This prompted diversity in imports of hemp fiber for clothing and textiles created by small businesses. Hemp continued to see success in the US; a 2014 Farm Bill allowed more states and businesses to start experimenting with hemp, and by 2018 hemp was made fully legal in the US with the 2018 Farm Bill.
Hemp in the US Conclusion
While the history of hemp in the US has been a bit of a roller coaster, things are looking up. Hemp is now fully legal in the United States, and the diversity of hemp-derived products on the market is astounding. Industrial hemp production is on the rise, the possibilities of which have not been fully explored in our market. Next up in our History of Hemp series will be a look at the future of hemp, where it’s going, and what those possibilities might be.
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