hemp and cannabis sativa history

The History of Hemp

Although hemp has been grown on earth for thousands of years, most people do not know where or how it was used. In America hemp was introduced in the 17th Century but the production of hemp was curtailed in the 20th Century.

Hemp’s Origins

Various scholars estimate that hemp has been used by humans for 10,000 years. Hemp may have been the first crop cultivated on a mass scale. 

The history of hemp goes back as early as 8,000 BC hemp was used in Taiwan (hemp cords were found in pottery) and in Mesopotamia (Iran & Iraq), hemp traces were found in cloth.

In China in 6,000 BC hemp seeds and oil were used as a food source and in 4,000 BC hemp was used for textiles.

An Egyptian goddess was shown with a hemp leaf above her head in 2,800 BC.

 In 1,200 BC hemp use spread throughout the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe.

China invented the first hemp-based paper in 200 BC. 

The Gutenberg Bible was printed on hemp-based paper, which started the popularity of books printed on hemp.

In America, hemp’s origins can be traced back to the Declaration of Independence, which was first printed on hemp. Our founding fathers cultivated hemp for industrial use.

What is Hemp and How Can It Be Used?

Hemp is a stout, aromatic, erect, annual herb with hollow slender stalks except at the tip and base. The leaves are compound with a palmate (palm-like) shape. Hemp flowers are small and greenish-yellow.  The flowers grow in clusters on the female plants. The male plants produce pollen and form many branched clusters. Hemp is cultivated in temperate climates, is fast growing, bug resistant, and also cleans the soil.

Hemp can be used in clothing, cordage (twine, rope cable and string), burlap and canvas, hemp milk, hemp seeds for salads, hemp oil for paint varnishes, soaps, edible oil, caged bird feed, car fuel and even concrete (hempcrete). There are endless uses of hemp! 

Hemp’s History in America – What Happened?!

So, what happened to hemp in America? The history of hemp in America actually dates back to Jamestown, in the year 1619, when the first English settlement grew hemp to make ropes, sails, and clothing. Hemp was grown by farmers and cultivated throughout the United States for industrial use up until the 1920s and 1930s. During those years a famed industrialist named William Randolph Hearst, owned the largest newspaper outlet as well as many acres of trees.  Since the cultivation of hemp (a hemp plant could grow in 4 months) was more efficient that wood-derived paper (trees could take up 80 years to grow to maturity), Hearst used his newspaper to began publishing anti-cannabis propaganda. He also linked the name marijuana to cannabis to cast a negative light on the crop and link it to anti-immigrant sentiment.

A politician named Harry J. Anslinger who ran the Federal Bureau of Narcotics used his position to align with Hearst who then demonized minorities and their use of cannabis. 

Anslinger and Hearst eventually wrote and enacted the Marijuana Tax Act to Congress on August 2, 1937. While it did not make cannabis illegal, it made the production and distribution of cannabis (and hemp) more difficult.

In 1970 Richard Nixon used the Marijuana Tax Act as a framework for his Controlled Substances Act which made marijuana a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. Schedule 1 meant that hemp had “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

The 21st Century and Hemp

In 2014, Congress passed the Farm Bill which allowed institutions to grow hemp.  And in 2018 the bill evolved to allow the legalization of hemp cultivation, distribution and sale. Every state has its own rules and regulations which are evolving in 2020.

Scotch Valley Ranch is a hemp farmer in upstate New York that proudly grows hemp flower for CBD.

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