Hemp History

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 7-17-10

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 7-17-10. http://www.drugtruth.net/cms/node/2982

Question of the Week: What is hemp’s history in United States?

A 2000 report from the United States Department of Agriculture recounted,

“The first records of hemp cultivation and use are from China, where the species most likely originated. Migrating peoples likely brought hemp to Europe where, by the 16th century, it was widely distributed, cultivated for fiber, and the seed cooked with barley or other grains and eaten.”

“The Puritans brought hemp to New England in 1645 as a fiber source for household spinning and weaving … Cultivation spread to Virginia and, in 1775, to Kentucky, where the crop grew so well a commercial cordage industry developed. The hemp industry flourished in Kentucky, Missouri, and Illinois between 1840 and 1860 because of strong demand for sailcloth and cordage by the U.S. Navy.”

For her article in the 2009 UCLA Law Review, Christine Kolosov, reported,

“So important was hemp to the earliest settlers that in 1619, the Jamestown colony passed a law making it illegal not to grow the crop. Colonies in Massachusetts and Connecticut passed similar laws in 1631 and 1632. The first drafts of the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were both penned on hemp paper, and hemp cultivation continued well into the twentieth century as patriotic farmers responded to the government’s call by drastically increasing production during World War I and World War II.”

But according to the USDA,

“Production peaked in 1943 and 1944. After the war, production rapidly declined as imports resumed and legal restrictions were reimposed. A small hemp fiber industry continued in Wisconsin until 1958.”

These facts and others like them can be found in the Hemp chapter of Drug War Facts.org.

Questions concerning these or other facts concerning drug policy can be e-mailed to mjborden@drugwarfacts.org.