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Myth Busting Hemp History – the Humble Wonder Plant

history of hemp

Hemp is more than just a controversial plant. It is actually an integral part of our global history, dating back over 10,000 years. In fact, until 1883, hemp was the world’s largest agricultural crop. It has over 10,000 uses, and none of them have to do with THC; hemp has no psychotropic effect, as THC levels by law have to be .03% or less.
Hemp’s former popularity as an agricultural crop comes from its vast applications. It is hands-down the most versatile plant on the planet. In fact, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say, if you can make it from something else, you can probably make it from hemp. And you can grow this crop with very little water and no pesticides.
And therein is the essential reason why hemp was illegalized. It threatened multiple industries and the wealth of the people who monopolized those industries.

hemp illigalization

Hemp illegalization – in a nutshell

During Hoover’s presidency, Andrew Mellon was appointed Hoover’s Secretary of the Treasury and became Dupont’s primary investor. Mellon appointed his future nephew-in-law, Harry J. Anslinger, to head the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs.
These financial tycoons held a series of meetings. They saw that hemp posed a threat to their billion dollar enterprises, like lumber, paper, steel. It was hemp OR their dynasties…so hemp had to go. They had to scare people into believing the plant posed a threat to them. And that’s exactly what they did.
That’s where the Spanish word ‘marihuana’ came from. These powerful men made it synonymous with hemp, because people already knew of hemp and how beneficial it was worldwide. They could never get away with blatantly banning hemp, so they used a name they knew no one would care about and made it seem like a foreign threat to the American way-of-life.
Newspapers started printing fabricated stories claiming the horrors and dangers of marihuana. It made headlines everywhere. Readers started believing that the “drug” caused everything from insanity to murderous rampages and utter immorality. Much of the arguments came with another racial slant, too. Anslinger warned men to keep their women from marijuana, saying females were in danger of listening to jazz music and consorting with black men.
Next came several propaganda films, including “Reefer Madness” (1936), which depicted a man going crazy from smoking marijuana and then murdering his family with an ax.

harry anslinger marijuana history

A fateful day in 1937

In 1937, the Prohibitive Marihuana Act was directly brought to the House Ways and Means Committee. It is the only one that could introduce a bill to the House floor without it debated or shot down by other committees. The Committee Chairman was Robert Doughton, a Dupont supporter. His vested interest ensured the bill would pass Congress.
Dr. James Woodward, a physician and attorney, recognized what was happening and tried to save the course of hemp. He made clear that the reason the American Medical Association had not denounced the Marihuana Tax Act immediately was because members had just discovered that this “marihuana” was actually hemp. Hemp and Marijuana are “cousins”, both cannabis sativa, but of course, they were lumped together in public perception to obtain the ban.

How hemp made its mark

In September of 1937, hemp prohibition began. And so the plant that was an integral part of US history, became suddenly absent. But it had already left an indelible print on the fabric of history, one that is sure to revive.
Betsy Ross used hemp fabric to make the first US flag.
The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper.
U.S. “founding fathers” such as Jefferson, Washington, and Franklin grew hemp.
One of Henry Ford’s first cars was made of 70% hemp cellulose fibers and could absorb blows 10x as great as steel without denting. And it ran on hemp ethanol fuel.
The US government used to mandate that farmers use their land to grow hemp.
Americans used to be able to use hemp crops to pay federal taxes.
Navy ships once used hemp ropes, because of their unbeatable strength.
Following prohibition, an article in Popular Mechanics in 1938 called Hemp, “The Billion Dollar Crop”. If it was regarded as a billion dollar industry over 75 years ago, imagine what revitalizing the hemp industry in this country could do.

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