A Brief History of Hemp

by Robbie Dellow
boy harvesting hemp in the field

Compared to all other plants, hemp has led one of the most versatile and multifaceted roles in human history. 
Here we will attempt to run through a very brief timeline covering the more significant periods in the evolution of the hemp industry.

boy harvesting hemp by hand

Circa 8000BC, hemp became one of the first cultivated crops with evidence of hemp cord being used with pottery in Mesopotamia to hemp seeds and oil being consumed in ancient China and modern-day Turkestan. From there hemp started spreading around the world over the next 6000 years.

In 2900BC Chinese Emperor Fu Hsi made reference to Ma (the Chinese word for Cannabis) noting that cannabis was a very popular medicine that possessed both yin and yang.

In 150BC the world’s first paper was invented in China and in 23-70AD the first medical text were written covering the medicinal properties of the cannabis plant.

Jump to 1533, when King Henry III of England mandates that all farmers must start growing hemp or face fines and a mere 73 years later the first hemp crop was grown in North America followed by America’s founding fathers even growing hemp crops.

George Washingtons diaries indicate that he grew hemp at his Mt Vernon plantation for approx 30 years, from 1745. His agricultural ledgers show that he had a particular interest in the medicinal use of cannabis.

1937 was significant in USA, with the implementation of the ‘Marijuana Tax Act‘ which due to confusion with other kinds of cannabis, hemp was strictly regulated by the government.
However with the onset of WWII, the Department of Agriculture launches a ‘Hemp for Victory‘ campaign to get patriotic farmers to grow hemp to support the war effort. Between 1942 and 1945 the USA cultivates 400,000 acres of hemp. This output soon decreases significantly after the war.

In 1970 the ‘Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act’ goes into force, which effectively made all cannabis cultivation illegal by setting a zero tolerance for THC.
It was from this date onwards that the hemp industry fought back, firstly with wins in Canada (1998) to make industrial hemp legal, to 2004 with some big wins in the USA courts.

In 1976, marijuana was decriminalised in The Netherlands, and this followed in 1980 with the legalisation of a system of ‘coffee shops’ where small quantities of cannabis could be purchased by adults. 

hemp coffee shop in AmsterdamIn 1990, scientists discover the cannabinoid receptor system in the human body. Two years later they identify the brains first endogenous cannabinoid (endocannabinoid) – the brains natural version of THC. 

!n 1996, California becomes the first US state to legalise medical marijuana.   

IN 2008, excavations in a 2700 year old Chinese tomb uncover a 2 pound cache of ancient cannabis 

In 2011 agricultural records show that the Canadian consumer had started accepting hemp as the acreages planted rose significantly from the decade earlier.
Recent USA presidents, Obama and Trump, respectively sign bills recognising hemp as distinct from cannabis which starts the full legalisation of hemp growing.

As of this writing, Cannabis is now fully legal in 18 USA states and all of Canada. Medical marijuana is legal in 37 US states.

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