Hemp and humans have been coexisting for a very, very long time. Early civilizations used it as a fabric, textile, medicine, and food source. In fact, a piece of hemp cloth dating back to 8,000 B.C. is known to be the earliest example of human industry. It’s uses are extensive-- humans are learning to use it as a substitute for concrete, rope, prescription pain relievers, and more. No wonder, then, that we share such a long history with this little green plant.
But what about Hemp in the US? Why are the laws so ambiguous? Why is the research, to date, not as extensive as it could be?
In 1606, Hemp was introduced to America and the New World. Since then, American farmers grew hemp that was used to produce hemp variants of paper, lamp fuels, and ropes. As the US trudged onward into colonial times, farmers were even legally required to grow it as a staple crop. Even America’s founding fathers grew hemp and advocated its uses and benefits. Notably, George Washington grew hemp on his estate.
In 1916, the USDA published findings showing hemp produces 4X more paper per acre than trees. In 1938, Popular Mechanics wrote an article about how hemp could be used in 25,000 different products. Hemp seemed to be poised to become an industrial and agricultural juggernaut, but the progress came grinding to a halt in the late 20th century. 1957 marked the last planting of an American commercial hemp field before the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified it as an illegal Schedule I drug, imposing strict regulations on the industrial cultivation. A misinformed bill driven by the fear of illicit substances saw hemp grouped in with its psychoactive cousin Cannabis, and the US began to lose its ties to the plant.
Recently, changes have been trending in the right direction. After 2000, licenses began to be returned to farmers for hemp growing. Bills were passed to increase research. Most notably, after failed attempts to pass hemp-specific laws, an amendment to the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (a.k.a. the “Farm Bill”) legalized hemp in the U.S. and was signed into law on Dec 20, 2018. The amendment removed the plant, along with any of its seeds and derivatives, from the Controlled Substances Act. With more funding and reduced regulations, we can only hope that America will once again utilize the incredible physical and chemical properties of hemp in medicine, agriculture, and sustainability.