Hemp was one of the first domesticated crops used by humans. It has been used for literally thousands of purposes for more than 12,000 years — and very possibly much longer.
Hemp is probably the earliest plant cultivated for textile fiber. Archaeologists found a remnant of hemp cloth in ancient Mesopotamia (currently Iran and Iraq) which dates back to 8,000 BC (use of hemp cord in pottery identified at ancient village site in the area of modern day Taiwan). Hemp is also believed to be the oldest example of human industry.
We find reference to the Emperor Shen Nung (28th century BC) who taught his people to cultivate hemp for cloth. It is believed that hemp made it to Europe in approximately 1,200 BC. From there, it spread throughout the ancient world.
China appears to have the longest continuous history of Hemp cultivation (over 6000 years). France has cultivated Hemp for at least 700 years to the present day, Spain and Chile similarly. Russia was a major grower/ supplier for hundreds of years.
The Chinese were the first to recognize the usefulness of hemp in paper making. In approximately 150 BC, they produced the world’s first paper, completely from hemp. The oldest documents written on paper are Buddhist texts from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD, composed of a mixture of bark and old rags, principally hemp. Hemp has been used as medicine throughout the world for centuries. Folk remedies and ancient medicines refer to the curative values of the leaves, seeds and roots. The seed and flowers were recommended for difficult childbirth, convulsions, arthritic joints, rheumatism, dysentery and insomnia.
During the middle ages, hemp became an important crop of enormous economic and social value supplying much of the world’s need for food and fiber.
Hemp was grown throughout the western and central provinces of Canada well before confederation. It is known that hemp was grown under the French regime, and was the first crop to be subsidized by government. In 1801, the Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada distributed hemp seeds to farmers.
In Africa hemp was used for dysentery, and fevers, today some tribes use hemp to treat snake bites.
In late medieval Germany and Italy, hemp was employed in cooked dishes, as filling in pies and tortes, or boiled in a soup.
Hemp arrived in Colonial America with the Puritans in the form of seed for planting and as fiber in the lines, sails and caulking of the Mayflower. British sailing vessels were never without a store of hemp seed, and Britain’s colonies were compelled by law to grow hemp.
Hemp was the fiber of choice for maritime uses because of its natural decay resistance and its adaptability to cultivation.
By the mid-1600s, hemp had become an important part of the economy in New England, and south to Maryland and Virginia. The Colonies produced cordage, cloth, canvas, sacks and paper from hemp during the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. Hemp fiber was so important to the young Republic that farmers were compelled by patriotic duty to grow it, and were allowed to pay taxes with it.
Hemp has played an important role in America and has been used in everything from the sails of the boats that carried Christopher Columbus to the new world to the first flag created by Betsy Ross. In addition, it was used in World War II to make ropes for the Navy and parachutes.
in 1619, the Jamestown Colony in Virginia passed a law requiring farmers in the territory to plant hemp. Other laws requiring the cultivation of hemp were enacted in Massachusetts (1631), Connecticut (1632), and in the Chesapeake Colonies into the middle of the 18th century. Hemp was even legal tender in most of the American colonies from 1631 until the early 1800s. For more than 200 years, citizens could pay their taxes with hemp.
Jefferson quote “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country.”
Industrial hemp is a rich fiber woven throughout American history. From ship rigging and canvas covered wagons to nutrient-dense seed oil and protein, our history wouldn’t be the same without hemp.
Industrial hemp has been grown in the U.S. since the first European settlers arrived in early 1600’s.
The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams all grew hemp and actively advocated for commercial hemp production.
Prior to the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:
Hemp products were legal to sell in pharmacies and drug stores, so long as they were properly labeled and regulated, but it was during the 1930s that the mainstream attitudes towards cannabis began to sway greatly towards negative opinion.
After the act was passed, hemp was lumped under the umbrella of “marihuana” and made effectively illegal under the 1937 Marihuana Tax Act, a law that required farmers to register their hemp crops with the Fed’s and purchase an exorbitantly expensive tax stamp. The very next year Popular Mechanics named hemp The New Billion Dollar Crop for its multitude of uses.
During World War II, hemp was of such necessity to the war effort that the USDA produced an educational video and accompanying literature to encourage farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. More than 150,000 acres of hemp were cultivated as a part of the USDA’s “Hemp for Victory” program. Read Hemp History Week’s blog article discussing hemp and World War II, or click here to watch the full Hemp for Victory video
The Situation Today
State hemp bills and resolutions were first introduced in 1995 in 15 states and first became law in Virginia in 1999.
IN 2005: 34 states passed legislation related to industrial hemp.
2015: the “Hemp Industry Development Act” is passed in Florida regarding hemp production.
It specifies that hemp is agricultural crop; requires registration of hemp growers; provides registration requirements; provides exemptions; requires rulemaking; provides for affirmative defense to certain charges relating to cannabis; provides exceptions to other laws.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that allows universities to cultivate hemp for research pilot projects.Florida is the latest state to pass legislation allowing for the growing of hemp. Gov. Rick Scott earlier this month signed the Industrial Hemp Pilot Projects bill (Senate Bill 1726) into law. The bill gives Florida A&M University (FAMU) and the University of Florida permission to conduct research pilot projects on growing and selling hemp.
“These universities may develop pilot projects to cultivate, process, test, research, create, and market safe and effective commercial applications for industrial hemp in the agricultural sector in this state,” the bill reads.
President Obama signed the Agricultural Act of 2014, or the 2014 Farm Bill, which included Section 7606 allowing for universities and state departments of agriculture to begin cultivating industrial hemp for limited purposes. Specifically, the law allows universities and state departments of agriculture to grow or cultivate industrial hemp if:
“(1) the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated for purposes of research conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research; and
(2) the growing or cultivating of industrial hemp is allowed under the laws of the state in which such institution of higher education or state department of agriculture is located and such research occurs.”
The law also requires that the grow sites be certified by—and registered with—their state.
The $500 billion 2014 federal Farm Bill allows for limited hemp cultivation. It permits universities and state agriculture agencies to grow the crop without interference by the federal government and the Drug Enforcement Agency. States and universities can also conduct research into hemp, an area that has largely been neglected since the prohibition of cannabis began in the United States in 1937.
Countries where it is legal to grow hemp
AUSTRIA has a hemp industry including production of hempseed oil, medicinals and Hanf magazine.
CANADA started to license research crops in 1994 on an experimental basis. In addition to crops for fiber, one seed crop was experimentally licensed in 1995. Many acres were planted in 1997. Canada now licenses for commercial agriculture with thousands of acres planted in 1998. Over 30,000 acres were planted in 1999.
CHILE grows hemp mostly for seed oil production.
CHINA is the largest exporter of hemp paper and textiles. (ma)
DENMARK planted its first modern hemp trials in 1997. Committed to utilizing organic methods.
FINLAND has had a resurgence of hemp (hampu) beginning in 1995 with several small test plots.
FRANCE harvested 10,000 tons in 1994. France is the main source of viable low THC hempseed. The French word for hemp is “chanvre”.
GERMANY only banned hemp in 1982, but research began in 1992 and many technologies and products are being developed. Clothes and paper are being made from imported raw materials. Germany lifted the ban on growing hemp November, 1995. The German word for hemp is hanf.
GREAT BRITAIN lifted hemp prohibition in 1993. Animal bedding, paper and textiles have been developed. A government grant was given to develop new markets for natural fibers. 4,000 acres were grown in 1994. Subsidies of $230 Eng. pounds per acre are given by the govt. for growing.
HUNGARY is rebuilding their hemp industry, and is one of the biggest exporters of hemp cordage, rugs and hemp fabric to the US They also export hemp seed and hemp paper. The Hungarian word for hemp is kender.
INDIA has large stands of naturalized Cannabis and uses it for cordage, textiles, and seed oil.
JAPAN has a religious tradition which requires that the Emperor wear hemp garments, so there is a small plot maintained for the imperial family only. They continue to import for cloth and artistic applications.
NETHERLANDS is conducting a four year study to evaluate and test hemp for paper, and is developing processing equipment. Seed breeders are developing new strains of low THC varieties. The Dutch word for hemp is hennep.
POLAND currently grows hemp for fabric and cordage and manufactures hemp particle board. They have demonstrated the benefits of using hemp to cleanse soils contaminated by heavy metals. The Polish word for hemp is konopij.
ROMANIA is the largest commercial producer of hemp in Europe. Total acreage in 1993 was 40,000 acres. Some of it is exported to Hungary for processing. They also export to Western Europe and the United States. The Romanian word for hemp is cinepa.
RUSSIA maintains the largest hemp germplasm collection in the world at the N.I. Vavilov Scientific Research Institute of Plant Industry (VIR) in Saint Petersburg. They are in need of funds. The Russian word for hemp is konoplya.
SLOVENIA grows hemp and manufactures currency paper.
SPAIN grows and exports hemp pulp for paper and produces rope and textiles. The spanish word for hemp is canamo.
SWITZERLAND is a producer of hemp. The Swiss words for hemp are hanf, chanvre or canapa depending on whether you are in the French, German or Italian speaking area.