Hemp has a long and rich history around the world, with its use dating back to the Stone Age. It has been used as a source of food and feed, of oil and fiber, in religious contexts, as a pillar of naval power and as an important global product. However, advances in metallurgy, textile processing and materials science have caused hemp to fall out of favor. This, combined with its association with narcotic cannabis, has led to its production being banned in the United States since 1937. Recently, however, there has been a renewed interest in hemp production due to its potential for automation and electricity to replace labor-intensive processes.
North Carolina has recently passed a bill that would legalize industrial hemp production in the state. But why did the US stop growing hemp in the first place?Hemp's relationship with humans began sometime in the Stone Age in Asia, the plant's native area. Hemp seeds have been found dating back to 8000 BC on the Japanese islands, suggesting that the plant was already known to locals at that time and that they recognized its possible uses. Archaeological evidence of their processing and use of hemp rope fingerprints on ceramics produced in the Taiwan area has been recorded since the 5th millennium BC. Hemp can be used as a base for a wide range of products.
Initially, it was used as a food source in the form of plant parts and seeds, as an oilseed crop and as animal feed. Hemp develops fairly quickly and grows well in wild or semi-wild forests (provided the soil and climate are adequate) with relatively little effort to care for it. Where industrial hemp really accelerated was when people discovered that they could use it for fiber and textiles. As we have seen before, this happened very early in Asia; in the third millennium BC, people living in present-day China and Turkistan were already using it as a raw material for the manufacture of textiles, and it is believed that it was the basis for the first forms of paper. In Europe, evidence of hemp processing and use only emerged around the Iron Age. Hemp was also used to make rope for ships during this time.
In 1619, it was illegal not to grow hemp in Virginia. Massachusetts and Connecticut adopted similar laws soon after, while Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, North & South Carolina and New England offered attractive subsidies to farmers who grew hemp. However, hemp production was banned in the United States in 1937 with the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act. This was due to its association with narcotic cannabis; industrial hemp varieties show low levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and higher levels of cannabidiol (CBD), effectively preventing any psychoactive use of plants. Supporters of industrial hemp farms often try to draw attention to this point when they discuss the legal framework surrounding the plant, since it invalidates much of the reasoning behind hemp regulation. In conclusion, hemp has been used by humans for centuries due to its versatility and usefulness.
However, its association with narcotic cannabis led to its production being banned in the United States since 1937. Recently there has been renewed interest in hemp production due to its potential for automation and electricity to replace labor-intensive processes.