Legalization of Hemp
Where did it originate?
The earliest use of hemp dates back to China in 4000 BC where it was mainly used to cultivate land. The five common uses amongst all early societies for hemp were for hempen fibers, medicine, narcotics, food, and oil, the last two of which coming from the seeds. Many cultures regarded hemp as a sacred commodity and either burned it (for any of various purposes, such as smoking or meditation) or wore it during ceremonies. In Africa, hemp was used to treat fevers and illnesses such as malaria and dysentery. (globalhemp.com).
Even 17th century peasants practiced traditions in their belief in the power of hemp and its value (globalhemp.com). Some African tribes, such as the Hottentots, regarded hemp, which they called dagga, as more valuable than gold, and feeling that it 'drugs their brain just as opium.' They carried their dagga in small leather pouches and stuck them beneath ivory rings that they wore around their arms. (druglibrary.org)
Hemp in England
Henry VIII required farmers in England to grow one quarter acre of hemp for every sixty acres of land. The British began cultivating hemp in its Canadian colonies in 1606 and began in Virginia in 1611. The Pilgrims introduced cultivation to New England as early as 1632, after they had learned about it from Native Americans (globalhemp.com).
The motherland deemed the cultivation of hemp in the colonies to be mandatory, in spite of colonists not particularly intent on growing hemp. In places such as Hartford Connecticut and Massachusetts in the mid-1600s, the courts ordered all families to plant one teaspoon of hemp seed. Hemp was so valuable, it was used as a method of paying taxes, and some colony ministers would force the inhabitants to purchase supplies such as thread with hemp. Until 1776, many colonies passed laws to encourage farmers to produce hemp, including Virginia, which motivated farmers to grow hemp by fining those who did not comply.
England was demanding raw materials from the colonies in order to increase its labor forces. As the colonists were cultivating hemp, they grew more and more self-sufficient in that they were able to grow crops domestically, which led them to boycotting English fabric products. Because of this, the colonists were better suited for independence, resulting in the American Revolution. Uses of hemp during the war included stationery, which was essential in passing messages amongst war leaders, as the colonists needed to plot a lot of strategy in overcoming the more abundant and powerful Redcoats. (globalhemp.com)
Domestic Hemp in the Colonial Times
In his most famous work, Common Sense, Thomas Paine wrote that in almost every article of defense we abound. Hemp flourishes even to rankness, so that we need not want cordage.” George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two of the founding fathers of this country, both advocated the cultivation of hemp. In Washington’s farm diary, he spoke about the quality of seeds and sowing them in his farms most fertile spots, noting how pertinent it was to cultivate seeds at the proper time. In 1790’s Washington began growing “Indian hemp,” which produced the best quality of plant, according to him, as it was supposedly superior to common. During Jefferson’s term as Governor of Virginia, he kept reserves of hemp, and in May of 1781, he even used hemp as currency when there was a dearth of federal money (globalhemp.com). Jefferson even drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper, and Ben Franklin owned a mill that made hemp paper. (naihc.org).
In 1792, Kentucky's legislature levied a tax of twenty dollars per ton on imported hemp, which prompted the state to start growing its own hemp as opposed to purchasing the increasingly pricey commodity. Since the soil in the state could not cultivate a grain crop, in the 1800s, hemp became one of the most important crops in Kentucky (globalhemp.com). To compensate for its inability to grow non-hemp crops, the "Bluegrass State" developed its own agricultural industry with hemp. Considering that Kentucky was a southern state, farmers utilized slaves in nurturing one of their biggest "money" crops, and slavery in Kentucky flourished because of black people's supposed expertise in the dirty work of handling hemp crops, which includes breaking, cleaning, and making the crops fruitful.
Henry Ford, the innovator of the assembly line, used hemp as a biomass to produce ethanol. He also discovered that 30% of hemp seed oil could be used as a high-grade diesel fuel (ybiofuels.org). With the fuel to run the machinery and later some of his vehicles, such as the 1908 Model T, Ford became a pioneer of the concept known as mass production, which created many job openings and helped the economy prosper in the Roaring '20's.
How Hemp Became Discredited
In the 1930’s, William Randolph Hearst, Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, the Rockefellers, and other "oil barons" who were developing petroleum-based empires, were all intent to eliminate the industries of renewable resources, hemp, and biomass fuels. Hearst, one of the most renown journalists even, used his newspapers to use the word "marijuana" to hemp, as it would make hemp seem more illicit. The fear of tactics such as those by the most influential tycoons of that era led to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937, which was the precursor to the demise of the hemp industry in the United States (ybiofuels.org).