The Complicated and Controversial History of the Hemp Plant

Hemp has a long and complicated history. From misinformation campaigns that frame it as a dangerous drug to outright prohibition of hemp cultivation in the U.S., it’s no wonder why so many of us have been led to believe that hemp has no useful abilities. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and we’re ready to help you better understand hemp’s history and dismantle these misconceptions about hemp, once and for all.

It’s Not a Myth: Hemp Really is Legal

With decades of prohibition behind us, one common misconception among people who are new to the hemp and CBD world is that it’s illegal. Thanks to the Farm Bill of 2018, hemp products like CBD oil are 100% federally compliant.

The 2018 Farm Bill, enacted December 20, 2018, legalized hemp cultivation and took it off the list of Schedule 1 substances. Under this bill, it’s legal to sell hemp-derived products, such as CBD oil, as long as they are not sold under the guise of dubious medical claims. Any dietary supplement that’s sold with therapeutic claims must be approved by the FDA, whether they are made with phytocannabinoid hemp oil or not. This opens up a wide set of doors in terms of hemp cultivation, production, and innovation.

What Makes Hemp So Amazing?

The legalization of hemp is long overdue. It’s a fast-growing crop that can be turned into a variety of commercial products including textiles, biofuel, paper, paint, food, animal feed, insulation, and even biodegradable plastics. According to one Popular Mechanics article published back in 1938, hemp could potentially be used to make 25,000 different kinds of products. It was four years after that when Henry Ford made a car body out of hemp fiber; later that same year, the USDA started the “Hemp for Victory” program, which allowed for the growth of 150,000 acres of hemp.

Hemp’s history in the United States goes even further back than 1938. In the 1770s, Virginian farmers were legally required to grow hemp. Famous hemp farmers include Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and George Washington. Abraham Lincoln was known for fueling lamps around his house with hemp oil.

Hemp and World History

Hemp is not exclusive to the United States, and its use actually dates back to more than 7,000 years ago. It’s one of the first plants to ever be sewn into fiber, and the first documented traces of it popped up in ancient Chinese and Taiwanese pottery. Sacred Hindu texts call it “Sacred Grass” and it’s considered one of the five most sacred plants in India. Nearly every civilization and society in history has used hemp fiber to create products like rope, oil, and paper.

Hemp’s medicinal uses are nothing new, either. Queen Victoria of England reportedly used hemp/cannabis tinctures to help with menstrual cramps. Sister Suzanne Aubert, a Catholic nun, is considered the first person to bring hemp and cannabis plants to New Zealand, where she cared for indigenous locals with her medicinal tinctures. It was not uncommon for her tinctures to contain hemp and cannabis extract, because it was seen for precisely what it is: a natural herb with vast healing potential.

As you can see, hemp is and has always been a harmless, hearty, and useful crop. So what happened to cause all the fear and misinformation we’ve seen over the last ~100 years? You can thank one man for that: Harry Anslinger.

Hemp’s Prohibition Era

Prior to the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Federal Narcotics Bureau cracked down on illicit drug use in the United States. Harry Anslinger led this bureau from 1930 to 1962 and implemented many of the unreasonable drug laws we still hear about today. With the help of pharmaceutical companies and apathetic politicians, he uprooted millions of lives, threw first-time and non-violent offenders in jail for decades, and basically created the prison industrial complex that politicians continue to profit from to this day. Of course, none of this was done without a healthy dose of racism and xenophobia, which he used to instill fear about people of color, cannabis consumers, and jazz music. 

Initially, Anslinger focused on more dangerous substances like heroin and cocaine. However, after alcohol prohibition ended and he had less money coming into the department, he knew he needed to do something for the sake of job security, so he used fear and misinformation to link marijuana, violence, and racial tension. This is when the term “marijuana” started coming into mainstream culture; he figured a Spanish term would make it sound more dangerous, and it worked. In 1937 he passed the Marihuana Tax Act, which made all cannabis-derived products illegal, including marijuana AND non-intoxicating hemp.

Anslinger stepped down in 1962, but the War on Drugs continued with President Richard Nixon in 1971. It’s thanks to him that hemp was classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the Controlled Substances Act. Heroin and LSD are also schedule 1 drugs, which classifies them as having “no medicinal value” and a “high risk for abuse.”

2014: hemp's first ray of hope

Hemp got its first break in 2014 when Colorado residents voted in favor of cannabis for recreational use, which allowed adults 21 and older to purchase cannabis. A few months later the United States Farm Bill of 2014 was passed, which legalized industrial hemp nationwide. Since then, the market has grown into a $50+ billion industry that serves both medical and recreational consumers.

Changing public perception didn’t come easy for cannabis activists. One of the biggest stories that helped tip the scales in favor of legalization was about a 5-year-old girl named Charlotte, whose parents illegally purchased and gave her CBD oil to help with her seizures. In a CNN special, they filmed one of her seizures and confirmed that because of the oil, they were able to reduce her seizures from 250 a week to just two. At this point, it was getting difficult for prohibitionists to deny the medicinal potential of cannabis. In 2018, the FDA approved Epidiolex, an anti-seizure drug containing cannabis and the first of its kind to receive FDA approval.

The 2018 Farm Bill

Finally, in 2018, hemp was removed from the list of Schedule 1 substances, which makes it easier to research the plant’s benefits and use it to create new products. There is still plenty of research to be done to understand just how much cannabis can do for our health, so this is exactly what the United States has needed to legitimize the conversation and help move the industry forward.

If you’ve been skeptical of cannabis and CBD-based products, we hope this helps give you an understanding of why it’s been so heavily stigmatized and why we’re so passionate about providing high-quality products to the masses. With the right information, we can all work together to help destigmatize this miraculous plant and improve the health of anyone who can benefit from it. We encourage you to reach out with any questions about our products, the hemp we use, and what Prima Terra Organics can do for you.

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