Separating hemp from marijuana is basically a matter of semantics, except when it comes to the law where things become a bit blurred. Technically, from a legal standpoint, the key difference between the two is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content. The discussion becomes even more confusing when historical context is added.
In 1937, the federal government passed the Marijuana Tax Act with the intent being the regulation of the narcotic varieties of cannabis. A component of the law made the Department of Revenue responsible for the licensing of all hemp growers. It also required farmers to pay a tax on the crops, and to sign an affidavit that crops would not be grown or used as a narcotic. As a result, hemp farming and production began to decline.
A boost to the industry was given during WWII when the United States Department of Agriculture launched a Hemp for Victory campaign to encourage farmers to use a portion of their crop land for the growing of hemp. Linked with this was the construction of new hemp processing plants. The project ended with the cessation of hostilities and that left farmers with canceled contracts, partially finished processing facilities, and resultant debt obligations.
The postwar demand for domestic hemp fibers was not enough to fill the void, and as a result, 1958 marked the last year for the harvesting and processing of a major hemp crop in the United States. The decline in demand for hemp was largely the result of the development of cheap synthetic fibers. It was the end of an era.
Hemp growing had been an integral part of American farming since the countries founding. Shortly before the Mayflower set sail, a law had been passed in Britain that required colonizing subjects to grow hemp where the climate allowed. As a result, British ships included hemp seed in cargo to the colonies, and returned with hemp rope, lines, and canvas that were prized for their decay resistance.
Purportedly the pioneering colonists onboard the Mayflower arrived with hemp seeds. The lines, rope and caulking of the ship were largely derived from hemp.
By the mid-17th century tobacco, cotton, and hemp had become cash crops in the southern colonies. In new England it was hemp, vegetables, and timber. The manufacture and export of hemp-based rope, cordage, cloth, canvas, and paper were an integral part of the American colonies’ economy. Thomas Jefferson experimented with hemp varieties through breeding and invented several devises to aid in fiber processing. Indicative of the plant’s importance, during the American Revolution the British often targeted hemp processing facilities. George Washington grew hemp.
In Virginia’s Piedmont and Shenandoah Valley regions, where tobacco did not grow so well, hemp became a staple. By the middle of the 18th century, Virginians had 12,000 acres cultivated in hemp, more than a quarter of the 45,000 acres they had in tobacco.
During the mid-19th century, the center of hemp farming had shifted west. Missouri, Kentucky, and Illinois were among the largest growers of hemp in the world. During WWI, with an increased international demand, farmers in other states again turned to growing hemp. The post war economic recession, and the dust bowl dramatically curtailed hemp growing. This decline escalated with passage of the Marijuana Tax Act.
Will a better understanding of hemp, and relaxed regulation lead to a resurgence of this historic industry? Only time will tell.
Brought to you by The Bud Farmacy
Written by Jim Hinckley of Jim Hinckley’s America – jimhinckleysamerica.com