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A History of Hemp in America
Posted in Learn

While you might have only recently heard about hemp extract and its benefits, the reality is that hemp has been cultivated for centuries. It’s clear from some of the earliest known artifacts of human civilization that hemp has been used for a multitude of purposes, from fabrics to paper, to medicine.

Obviously, its origins in America are much newer, but as scientific research continues to find more medicinal benefits within hemp, it is clear that America will have a rich relationship with the wonder product.

  • In 1545, hemp is introduced to North and South America via Spanish colonists.
  • By 1630, New England has established hemp growth to the point that it has become a staple crop.
  • Fun Fact! In 1765 George Washington found that tobacco was not making him the profit he had hoped, so he began growing hemp at Mt. Vernon. It would appear many of the other founding fathers felt similarly because Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison all grew hemp as well.
  • Over the next 11 years, Spain began to expand the growth of hemp into Louisiana, helping them rely less on imported hemp by 1777.
  • When Irish doctor William Brooke O’Shaughnessy traveled to India in 1839, he was thrilled to find that hemp was being used for a variety of medical purposes. The landscape for hemp’s use was truly changed after he published his findings in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
  • From 1850 – 1937, companies that we know today as Bristol-Myers Squibb, Eli Lilly, and Pfizer joined other pharmaceutical companies in using hemp within their products.
  • By 1917, Kentucky led the nation in hemp production.
  • The turning point for hemp in the US came in 1936, when the nation started to express disapproval toward “mind-altering substances.” Shortly after, in 1937, a tax act was instituted that applied to agricultural hemp.
  • Scientists at the University of Illinois isolated hemp extract from the cannabis plant for the first time in 1940. At the time, hemp extract was thought to be inactive.
  • In 1970, under the Controlled Substance Act, hemp extract was placed under federal control. This is what also inspired the creation of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
  • Hemp products first hit the polls in 1972, where its legalization was shot down.
  • The 1990s were a time of great momentum in legalizing hemp. Early in the decade, hemp production increased, and in 1996, California passed the Compassionate Use Act.

In 2014 the Agricultural Act of 2014, also known as the Farm Bill, was passed. The Farm Bill not only removed federal restrictions on hemp, but it also allowed for states who passed the law to establish hemp research programs. This research led to the 2018 creation of the FDA-approved drug Epidiolex, which is a hemp-based cannabinoid product that is prescribed for hard-to-treat forms of epilepsy.

A new version of the Farm Bill was signed into law in December of 2018. The 2018 Farm Bill fully legalizes the cultivation, processing, and use of hemp/products manufactured from hemp. It will grant states primary regulatory authority for hemp production in compliance with USDA-approved plans. Finally, it exempts hemp, including hemp-derived cannabinoids, from federal controlled substance laws.

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