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Legal history of hemp in the USA

Chapter 4

It is not known when precisely the cultivation of hemp began history, but it is estimated that it might have started as early as 10,000 years ago. In America, hemp cultivation was introduced in 1606. It was one of the first grown crops in America. In 1619, the first English settlement town in the New World, Jamestown, established the first-ever regulations that required farmers to cultivate it. Its popularity grew so much that in some states like Maryland and Pennsylvania, it was accepted as a form of currency. In the 1700s, it was made mandatory for farmers to plant it and some of the founding fathers cultivated it, for example, Thomas Jefferson drafted the first declaration of independence on Hemp paper in 1776.

Historical Cultivation of Hemp

In the 1800s, cannabis was embraced by doctors and farmers. Those in the civil war used it as a quick fix resource making clothes, ropes and sails from hemp. Doctors mainly used marijuana for its medicinal value for example to treat menstrual bleeding, opiate addiction, alcoholism, and other ailments. In 1850, it was listed in the US Pharmacopeia as a drug and was even sold over the counter. The Marijuana Tax Act was introduced in 1937 making cannabis illegal and imposing hefty fines on hemp farmers. The Federal Narcotic Bureau which is the precedent of the Drug Enforcement Administration began spreading propaganda through rumor mongering and hate speech to shun cannabis. This was after the influx of Mexican immigrants who were smoking marijuana in 1920. The usefulness of Cannabis was not highlighted, and false stories of marijuana users who became murderers were spread tied together with racism claims against minorities.

In 1942, hemp growth was revitalized during World War II as soldiers faced a shortage of hemp imports with hemp farmers being excluded from the war. In the same year, Henry Ford made a car whose body was made from hemp fiber and which ran on biodiesel from hemp. The United State Department of Agriculture began advocating for hemp again under the campaign ‘Hemp for Victory.’ In 1970, the war on drugs started again. This time the focus on anti-war pacifists and the minorities and it led to the indiscriminate arrest of people who were punished by tough laws. The Controlled Substances Act classified the cannabis plant as a schedule I drug again blurring the line between Marijuana and Hemp.

Food grade hemp seed and oil importation began in 1998, but hemp farming was still considered illegal. In 2014, Obama signed the farm bill that allowed research institutes to launch pilot projects on Hemp Farming. In 2015, the Industrial Hemp farming Bill was introduced at the federal level. By 2018, 33 states had legalized medicinal marijuana, and nine states had legalized recreational use of Marijuana by adults, but these projects are considered illegal according to the country’s laws. On April 12th, 2018, Majority Senate leader co-sponsored by Oregon senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced the farm bill in a bid to legalize hemp production in his home state Kentucky and nationally.

The bill made the following provisions:

  • Remove restrictions on hemp farmers to water rights, crop insurance, and banking services
  • Legalize hemp by separating marijuana from hemp using the criteria that hemp contains less than 0.3% THC thereby excluding it from the Controlled Substances Act
  • Grant hemp farmers federal Agricultural grants
  • Stating conditions and removing restrictions for agronomy research
  • Allow for marketing of hemp products
  • Put US Department of Agriculture and state agencies in charge of Hemp farming regulation
  • Allow for possession of hemp products and remove the restriction on transfer of hemp products across state lines.
  • Indicate punishments for violators of the bill
  • Giving shared power to state and federal agencies over hemp cultivation and production

The bill was passed in the Senate in November of 2018 and was signed into law by President Donald Trump on December 20th, 2018. There are still several restrictions by the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Administration particularly regarding CBD, but the bill is a good step forward particularly for cash crop farmers. The USA was the largest importer of hemp products before passing this bill. It imported from China mostly as it’s the largest hemp producers but also from Canada, Europe, and France among other countries.

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