Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The History of Hemp in the United States


Hemp is the cannabis plant high in CBD and low in THC grown for it's fiber to make fabric, paper, rope and a food source. From the very beginning of early America, the cannabis plant has been an integral part of the society.

Hemp was one of the first commodities in early America. In 1611 the British started cultivating hemp in Virginia. In 1619 Jamestown Virginia declared it illegal to NOT grow hemp, Massachusetts and Connecticut passing similar laws later. Hemp being a commodity in early America was used for bartering in 1631 in the Colonies. This continued through the 17th and 18th century for hemp to be legal tender to pay taxes and encourage cultivation. From 1715-1730 hemp laws were passed to encourages self-sufficiency in the colonies by creating incentive to make cloth, bibles and maps on hemp paper. In Lancaster County Pennsylvania every township grew hemp with a booming business of more than 100 mills to process the hemp fiber.

Notable people and relics were part of the hemp industry of early United States of America. “Make the most of the Indian hemp seed and sow it everywhere" said George Washington in 1795. Benjamin Franklin, wanting distance from Englands control, started the first hemp paper mill. Thomas Paine wrote his patriotic messages on hemp paper. The Declaration of Independence was drafted and the Constitution was printed on hemp paper. Betsy Ross made the first American flag from hemp fiber. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp on his plantation saying “Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth and prosperity of the nation.” The frigate U.S. Constitution known as “Old Ironsides” in the War of 1812 used hemp for its rope and sails. Mark Twain did his writings on hemp paper. Abraham Lincoln used hemp oil in his lamp to work in the night to write the Emancipation Proclamation.

Hemp proliferated throughout the United States as the progression of expansion moved west. The early 1800's has reports of the Californian missions growing hemp. By 1850, the U.S. Census reported 8,327 hemp plantations. The westward movement used lassos, lighting oil, paints, varnishes and canvas covered wagons made from hemp.

Other fibers started to take less labor like cotton, jute, sisal and petroleum in the late 1800's starting to create the decline in the hemp industry. Hemp started being used for just unique products like birdseed or varnish. In 1917 George W. Schlichten created a machine that made the production for hemp much more economical by increasing the yield by 600% and reducing labor costs by 90%. 

At the same time Rudolph Diesel around the same time invented the diesel engine to use vegetable and seed oil which would have benefited the hemp industry. However the oil stronghold of Rockefeller, Standard Oil and Rothschild bought onto Henry Fords vision of methanol fuel and worked to keep prices down so there was a lack of competition. This worked until 1970 when the competition was erased with oil jumping to record high prices.(Source)

Unfortunately for hemp a big anti-narcotic campaign, where the fear led to banning the cultivation of hemp. California in 1913 was the first to ban the cultivation of hemp with 30 states following by 1930. There were two reasons for the early outlaws of hemp, the first from a prejudice against Mexicans that used it. The second is for the fear that heroin would be a gateway drug to the use of marijuana, much in reverse of modern day thinking.(Source)

In the 1930's campaigns were brought to demonize marijuana and exaggerate the correlation between hemp and marijuana. These campaigns were funded by Andrew Mellon who invested in DuPont, William Randolph Hearst who was in the timber industry, and Harry Anslinger, nieces husband of Andrew Mellon who Mellon appointed as the Federal Bureau of Narcotics which later became the DEA. The fall of the hemp industry allowed the timber industry of Hearst and the petroleum-based products of DuPont to flourish. The anti-cannabis campaign focused on demonizing Mexican immigrants and Black jazz musicians that used it with movies like “Marijuana: Assasin of Youth”, “Devil's Weed”, and “Reefer Madness”.

The destruction of the hemp industry was really put into effect in 1937 by the Marijuana Tax Act, that penalized the usage of hemp. In 1941 Henry Ford illegally grew hemp to test a car that could be run on the oil of hemp, trying to separate from the monopoly of the petroleum industry that he helped create.(Source)

During World War 2, importation of hemp was curtailed, which was used in many military applications. The U.S. Government started the 1941-1945 Hemp for Victory campaign. After the war, the campaign was replaced by “Ditch the Weed”, which the midwest still has many of the hemp volunteer plants lining the roadways and ditches from the campaign. The U.S. Denied that Hemp for Victory campaign was ever created, however hemp activists Carl Packard, Mia Farrow and Jack Herer recovered some VHS tapes in 1989 of the propaganda film. (Source)

In the 1990's there was a new emergence of life to the hemp industry that had been suppressed. In 1994 President Clinton declared hemp as a strategic food source in an executive order. The American Farm Bureau Federation passed a resolution in 1996 to grow test plots of land for hemp. Jesse Ventura running for governor in 1998 endorsed industrial hemp, jumping his support from 7-38%.

The Oglala Sioux Tribe of Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota legalized hemp in 1998. Alex White Plume grew hemp on the reservation and the DEA promptly destroyed it at harvest time in 2000. The Kentucky Hemp Growers replaced the hemp to Alex so he could continue growing. Alex White Plume became the first farmer since 1968 to cultivate and sell hemp in the U.S.(Source)

Currently the federal government bans the growing of hemp, while the states of California, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia deems the growing of hemp as legal. President Obama in 2014 signed the Farm Bill of 2013 into law to for research and agriculture pilot programs.(Source)

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