The History of Hemp Farming in the United States

The country’s latest buzzwords? That’s easy—cannabis, hemp, and CBD. People across the nation are talking about hemp oil versus CBD oil, the difference between hemp-derived CBD and cannabis, hemp extract and CBD tinctures—the list goes on and on. But what is hemp’s story? What role has it played in our history? Why are hemp products so controversial? Below, we dive into the journey of hemp farming in the United States and explore its path to rediscovery and booming popularity. But first, let’s define what hemp is and its myriad of uses.

What is Hemp Exactly?  

Hemp is a low THC variety of the plant Cannabis sativa. That’s right, Hemp and Marijuana are the same plant, at least of the same Genus and species. The differentiating factor is the amount of THC contained in the flower of the plant. If a strain of Cannabis sativa produces less than 0.3% THC, it is hemp (also known as Industrial Hemp). Any more than 0.3%, call it marijuana. Just as a poodle and a chihuahua are Canis familiaris, hemp and marijuana are the same but very different. 

What is Hemp used for?

Hemp is cultivated for fibers, food, and medicine. Hemp fibers can be used for paper, textiles, and rope. Hemp seed is an excellent source of plant-based protein second only to soybeans in protein content and hemp seed oil that provides the perfect 3 to 1 ratio of Omega 6 and Omega 3 essential fatty acids. (Please note, hemp seed oil does not contain CBD or any other cannabinoids). The hemp flower contains glands (trichomes) that produce CBD, other cannabinoids, and terpenes that have a modulating effect on our endocannabinoid system and other systems in your body. So, just as different breeds of dogs have different characteristics, different strains of hemp have been bred to produce fiber, seeds, oil, and cannabinoids for medicinal and recreational use.  

The Origins of Hemp

The cultivation and use of hemp dates back as far as 8000 BCE, where archeologists find traces of and references to the plant in what is now modern-day Japan, China, and Taiwan. Hemp fiber imprints found in Neolithic Age pottery, in ancient Chinese clothing and ropes, evidence some of the earliest practical uses of hemp plants. Likewise, ancient manuscripts such as the Mishnah depict the familiarity of 2nd-century Jews with hemp farming and cultivation. 

Medieval Europeans used hemp as an ingredient in several recipes, such as soups and pies, and also cultivated hemp for rope and other textiles. In the western hemisphere, Native Americans have long been savvy to hemp’s properties and uses. When European explorers arrived, they found Native Americans growing hemp for thread, paper, and food. Between the Native Americans and the early Europeans, hemp quickly became a commodity in North America and continued to be used as barter up to the birth of the United States in the 18th century.     

Hemp in the Early United States

During colonial times, hemp was mandated in Virginia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut as a required crop for settlers to cultivate. Settlers were encouraged to process the plant for clothing, paper, baggage, sails, and tents. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were among the most notable advocates of hemp farming, urging Americans to explore the versatility of the cash crop and to appreciate the sustainability of a crop that came to harvest in a few months as opposed to a few decades, which was the case with timber-based paper production. Benjamin Franklin was such a strong advocate that he started one of the first hemp paper mills on his plantation in Virginia. Urban legend has it that the first draft of the Declaration of Independence was written on hemp paper. Sadly, this is not true. But, U.S. grown hemp played a critical role in supplying U.S. troops with uniforms and rope during our struggle for independence.

The use and popularity of hemp products continued through the Civil War. In the U.S., high THC strains of cannabis (marijuana) were widely utilized as a patent medicine during the 19th and early 20th centuries, described in the United States Pharmacopoeia for the first time in 1850. Hemp was not grouped together with marijuana until the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937. This act levied a tax on commercial cannabis, hemp, and marijuana. Soon after the Marihuana Tax Act was passed, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) lifted the tax with the onset of WWII as a result of Japan cutting off the supply of imported hemp. That’s right, we could not grow the hemp here in the U.S. but we could import it from other parts of the world. Once again, the U.S. revitalized hemp farming for the production of uniforms, canvas, and rope needed by the war effort.

The Decline of Hemp Farming in the 20th Century

After World War II, the U.S. reverted to its earlier stance on hemp cultivation, and the industry saw a significant decline, while plastic and nylon industries boomed. Political pressure from industry seeking to promote petroleum-based products, timber-based paper production, and synthetic pharmaceuticals found the perfect ally in the social unrest of the emerging war on drugs. Hemp farming was officially banned with the 1970 Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in which hemp was included as a Schedule 1 drug, a substance with high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety. The CSA deemed the manufacturing, importation, possession, use, and distribution of Schedule 1 substances illegal, lumping hemp and marijuana together with the likes of heroin, LSD, MDMA, psilocybin, ecstasy, and others. Perhaps the worst disservice to public health has been the fact that Schedule 1 substances can not receive federal funds for research, keeping valid medicinal uses of hemp and marijuana out of mainstream medicine in our country.

Hemp Farming Today

In 2004, hemp began its comeback. The Hemp Industries Association (HIA) won a court battle over the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) with a ruling that separated non-psychoactive hemp from marijuana and protected the sale of hemp-containing foods. Slowly picking up speed, hemp cultivation licenses were issued to two North Dakota farmers in 2007. The Farm Bill of 2014 allowed several states and businesses to begin further experimentation with hemp. 

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly referred to as the 2018 Farm Bill, federally legalized the cultivation, production, and distribution of hemp and production of hemp derivatives, such as hemp-derived CBD. The 2018 bill served as a critical step forward for legitimizing the hemp industry and was followed at the end of 2019 by the USDA interim final rule establishing a domestic hemp production program in the United States. This program puts forth a system to govern and regulate the legal hemp farming industry.

Hemp’s Story is not complete

Perhaps the biggest issue surrounding hemp in the U.S. today is the uncertain regulatory status of CBD. While the cultivation of hemp and production of CBD have been legalized, the marketing of CBD as a supplement, drug, and in food fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. FDA. The FDA has yet to rule, but the agency’s current opinion is that CBD is not a supplement and can not be marketed as such. This is despite the fact that CBD “supplements” our bodies naturally occurring cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, to assist in modulating many of our homeostatic functions such as mood, inflammation, immune response, and mitigation of pain. 

Stay tuned as Redeem participates in the ongoing debate and tries to affect positive regulation.

Grow with Redeem is a hemp-derived CBD private label company that is dedicated to helping developing brands from the ground up. Our team of experts, including scientists, graphic designers, hemp cultivators, and cGMP manufacturing specialists can assist brands in creating the ideal proprietary CBD formula and bringing it to market. To learn more about our private and white labeling processes, contact our Grow with Redeem team today. 

Grow With RedeemThe History of Hemp Farming in the United States

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