Hemp, also known as Cannabis sativa, is a plant in the Cannabaceae family that was first cultivated for its edible seeds. Though hemp is often confused with the cannabis plant that helps create marijuana, cannabis cultivated for hemp has only miniscule amounts of THC compared to marijuana.
Originating in Asia, hemp cultivation spread throughout Europe in the early Christian era before being planted in Chile in the 16th century and traveling to North America soon after.
Hemp can be used in a variety of ways depending on which part of the plant is cultivated. The fibre obtained from these plants is strong and durable and often used for twine, yarn, rope or string. Edible seeds from hemp cultivation contain about 30% oil and provide protein, fiber and magnesium. Seeds can also be used as an alternative to dairy with hemp seed milk. Oils from hemp seeds are also used to make paints and soaps.
Timeline of Hemp Legalization in USA
Hemp was a staple of early Central Asian culture (the earliest known piece of fabric was “woven from hemp fibers” according to The Columbia History of the World, Harper & Row, 1972). Colonists brought hemp to the Americas from Spain by planting seeds in Chile before hemp made its way to Mexico and continued north.
Cannabis was popular as a cash crop in New England in the early 1600s, so much so that George Washington is known to have been growing hemp after discovering that tobacco was not the cash cow he had imagined it to be. Hemp was cultivated to be used mostly as rope or twine to help contain shipments and products to and from America in the late 1700s.
The 19th and 20th centuries brought on the “golden age” of medical cannabis, as physicians began learning about the therapeutic applications of the crop. In the early 1900s, cannabis made its way to a list of dangerous drugs provided by what would become the FDA. Cannabis was on the same list as alcohol, morphine, and opium, and there was no distinction made between hemp or marijuana.
In 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act began taxing agricultural hemp as well as cannabis products intended to be used as medicine.
In 1940, Dr. Roger Adams led a group of scientists at the University of Illinois who were able to isolate cannabidiol from the cannabis plant.
After World War II, synthetic fibers like nylon came into style and hemp production vanished. California’s Proposition 19 was the first attempt in the US to legalize cannabis in 1972, but was defeated at the polls handily.
1996 brought California’s Prop 215, which passed with 56% of the vote and made medical marijuana legal in the state. Other individual states would follow, passing laws to provide cannabis access for patients suffering from a variety of ailments.
The 2014 “Farm Bill” allowed any state to study the benefits of hemp cultivation without restrictions.
2014 also saw the Colorado Amendment 64 that led to the legalization of cannabis for adult use, meaning anyone over 21 could grow their own cannabis and keep it for use.
June 2018 saw the FDA approve Epidiolex, which is a CBD product used to treat epilepsy. The DEA rescheduled a number of cannabidiol products soon after.
Later in December 2018, President Donald Trump signed the 2018 Agricultural Improvement Act that changed the legal definition of the word “hemp.” Federal law states now that hemp includes hemp-derived products, including cannabinoids like CBD. Most importantly, the law also elucidated that the term “marijuana” does not include hemp. This moved hemp and CBD from Schedule-1 narcotics overseen by the DEA to products under the authority of the USDA and FDA.