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vintage school teacher and hemp history

Hemp History: The eventful story of one amazing plant

Humans have long used hemp for a multitude of purposes, but our history with this highly versatile plant is a bit tumultuous. Fortunately, cultural perception is shifting, and more people and governments are recognizing the many benefits of hemp as plant medicine and an agricultural resource.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, hemp was used for clothing, sails, rope, plastics, paper, food, and even cars! It is naturally pest resistant, can be grown in almost any kind of soil, and requires very little maintenance. As a result, hemp was incredibly popular, but eventually became illegal. How did this happen?

The short answer is that financial magnates with names like Hearst and DuPont knew that the economy and versatility of the hemp plant presented a threat to their empires in tree-based paper and fuel.

These men knew that they’d never be able to ban hemp outright, as everyone appreciated its many uses and and benefits to the American economy. But, through some heavy political maneuvering and a bit of yellow journalism, these heads of industry began to associate the hemp plant with an obscure Mexican slang word “marihuana” – and began claiming it was responsible for everything from car accidents to immoral behavior of every flavor. They may not be able to ban hemp, but they could certainly get the American public to vote against something that threatened the moral fiber of society.

And so, despite thousands of years in the useful employ of humankind, hemp was recast as a menace, regulated as a narcotic, defamed, banned and its benefits largely ignored.

Until recently, when state and municipal governments have gone against the feds in recognition of hemp’s many benefits, and allowed this ancient plant to have a positive impact on modern society.

 

And so, here are highlights of hemp history:

8000 BCE
The ancient Chinese domesticated hemp from a wild plant into a cultivated crop.

600 BCE
Hemp rope appears in southern Russia.

500 BCE
Hemp seeds and leaves of the Cannabis plant are included in burial sites.

1700’s
Many of the founding fathers were hemp farmers. Including George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson. Washington was a huge advocate of the plant and it’s lucrative value: “Make the most you can of [hemp], by sowing them again in drills!” (from 1794 letter to William Pierce).

1763-1769
Hemp was deemed so valuable to young America that it was against the law to refuse to grow it during the 1600-1800’s. In fact you could be jailed in Virginia from 1763-1769 if you refused to farm hemp.(1)  

1880’s
All US schoolbooks were made from hemp or flax paper until the 1880s. (Hemp Paper Reconsidered. 1974.)

FUN FACT
It was legal to pay taxes with hemp in America from 1631 until the early 1800s.(2)

 

PROHIBITION BEGINS

1914
The Harrison Act defined the use of several drugs, including cannabis, as a crime.

1936
The American propaganda film “Reefer Madness” is released.

1937
The U.S. Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which criminalized the drug.

William C. Woodward testified before Congress and said: “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug.” His testimony was ignored. It is interesting to note that William Randolph Hearst, who had significant financial interests in the timber industry (which manufactured his newsprint paper), wrote many newspaper articles against hemp. These articles were used as part of the testimony Congress used to support the ban.

1938
Hemp was dubbed the ‘Billion Dollar Crop’ by Popular Mechanics. It was the first time a cash crop was estimated to exceed a billion dollars value mark.

1941-1942
Henry Ford builds an experimental car body made from hemp fiber that ran on hemp ethanol fuel. The car, ‘grown from the soil,’ had hemp plastic panels whose impact strength was 10 times stronger than steel.

1941
The U. S. Pharmacopoeia removed Cannabis and its medical uses were no longer recognized in America.

1942-1943, World War 2
The USDA develops a “Hemp for Victory” film to support the war effort. It encouraged everyone to grow hemp. Hemp was used for parachutes, rope, webbing, shoes, clothes and much more.

1957
Hemp is banned in the U.S.

1958
The last hemp crop was harvested and processed.

1970
The Controlled Substances Act is passed, prohibiting cannabis federally along with several other drugs and replacing the 1937 act.

1972The Shafer Commission urged that the use of cannabis be re-legalized, their recommendation is ignored.

1977-1981
President Carter and his assistant for drug policy, Dr. Peter Bourne, pushed for decriminalization of marijuana. President Carter asked Congress to abolish federal criminal penalties for those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana.

1986
President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, reinstating mandatory minimums and raising federal penalties for possession and distribution. The “War on Drugs” begins.

 


 

MEDICAL CANNABIS BEGINS

1996
California legalized medical cannabis via Proposition 215.

1998
Oregon, Alaska, and Washington legalized medical cannabis.

1999
Maine legalized medical cannabis
.

2000
Hawaii, Nevada, and Colorado legalized medical cannabis. Hawaii became the first state to do so by state legislature.

2004
Montana and Vermont legalized medical cannabis.

2007
New Mexico legalized medical cannabis.

2008
Michigan legalized medical cannabis. Massachusetts decriminalized cannabis.

2010
New Jersey and Arizona legalized medical cannabis.

2010 California decriminalizes possession to a civil infraction.

2012 Massachusetts legalized medical cannabis.

 


 

RECREATIONAL LEGALIZATION BEGINS

2012
Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older.

2013
Uruguay becomes the first country in the world to legalize all aspects of cannabis.

2014
The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment passed the U.S. House and was signed into law. Requiring annual renewal, it prohibits the Justice Department from interfering with the implementation of state medical cannabis laws. President Obama legalizes limited hemp farming in the United States with The Farm Bill. The states of Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Colorado legalized cannabis for recreational use. Maryland decriminalized cannabis. Minnesota and New York legalized medical cannabis.

2014
Utah legalizes CBD oil, becoming the first state to legalize a cannabis-based medicine without legalizing medical cannabis entirely. 
Oklahoma legalizes trials of CBD oil. Alaska and Oregon legalized recreational cannabis. Alaska’s law took effect on February 25, 2015. Oregon’s initiative began on July 1, 2015.

2015
In a 4 to 1 vote, the Mexican Supreme Court decided that consumption and cultivation of cannabis is a fundamental human right for the free development of one’s personality

2015
Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas legalized CBD oil. Louisiana legalized medical cannabis; Delaware decriminalized cannabis.

2016
Ohio and Pennsylvania legalized medical cannabis via state legislature; Illinois decriminalized cannabis. California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts legalized recreational cannabis via ballot initiative. Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas legalized medical cannabis via ballot initiative.

2017
Vermont becomes first state to pass recreational cannabis bill entirely through elected legislature on May 10, 2017

2017
Legal to sell hemp-based CBD products (with negligible THC content) in all 50 states.

 

FUN FACT
You can do a lot with hemp.
The
North American Industrial Hemp Council has estimated that hemp can be used to make more than 25,000 products. Wow.

 


 

  1. Ayers, Ruby. “Industrial Hemp: A History and Overview of the Super Crop-and Its Trillion-Dollar Future.” Ho`Oulu, 15 Jan. 2016, maui.hawaii.edu/hooulu/2016/01/15/industrial-hemp-a-history-and-overview-of-the-super-crop-and-its-trillion-dollar-future
  2. Popular Mechanics, 1941.
  3. Reilly, Ryan (May 30, 2014). “House Blocks DEA From Targeting Medical Marijuana“. Huffington Post. Retrieved July 4, 2014.
  4. Sullum, Jacob (January 4, 2016). “The Federal Ban on Medical Marijuana Was Not Lifted“. Reason. Retrieved January 22, 2017.

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