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The History of Hemp in America

Updated: Jan 4

An american flag stuck in the grass in front of a sunset


The history of hemp in America is often marred by misinformation, paranoia, and outright scare tactics. From decades-long baseless propaganda to laws banning the cultivation, use, or sale of marijuana. There's so much to unpack. This article provides insight into what was, what is and what we hope will come for hemp in America.

Good Times

In 1611, Jamestown settlers brought the hemp plant to America. They used it to make ropes, sails, and cloth, and it became legal tender in some states. Then, in 1762, the Virginia Assembly made it mandatory for all farmers to grow it and punished those who didn't.

In the 1930s, a physician called William O'Shaughnessy popularized the use of medical cannabis in the Western world. It became so popular that pharmacies openly sold it after it was added to the U.S. Pharmacopeia sometime in the 1850s.

Regulation and Ban

Awkwardly, the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 listed cannabis as an addictive/dangerous drug. Nevertheless, in the following decade, Mexican refugees, sailors, and immigrants from the Caribbean brought smokable hemp to the U.S.

In 1911, Massachusetts started demanding hemp prescriptions. Then, 29 U.S. States made marijuana illegal from 1913 to 1933. In the 1930s, Henry Anslinger, the then head of the Bureau of Narcotics, spread misinformation about marijuana to influence public opinion.

The 1936 film, Reefer Madness, is a perfect example. In 1937, Anslinger drafted the Marijuana Tax Act, which banned marijuana. In 1939, the New York Academy of Medicine created a committee to research the effects of cannabis. In 1944 their findings showed that Anslinger's declarations were untrue, and they sought to promote systemic racism. Unsurprisingly, Anslinger labeled the La Guardia report as unscientific and baseless. Earlier in 1942, cannabis lost its place in the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

War on Drugs

The Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act were enacted in 1951 and 1956 to enforce minimum sentences for drug offenders. In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act organized drugs into five schedules. Cannabis was labeled a Schedule I drug, meaning it has no medicinal value and has a high risk for abuse. The same year, President Nixon started the "War on Drugs" campaign, which escalated into the 1980s.

In 1971, the Shafer Commission's findings that proved that marijuana is not the devil's drug were immediately discarded. In 1974, the National Institute of Drug Abuse became America's sole legal marijuana source. It developed the Compassionate Use program shut down in the 1990s by the Bush Administration. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1996, followed by its amendment, established the death penalty for drug lords and life imprisonment for offenders with three strikes.

The Road to Legalization

In 1996, California made medical marijuana legal. After that, 20 other states followed suit from then till 2012. Still, in California, the DEA raided up to 11 medical cannabis dispensaries and seized an undisclosed amount of cannabis in 2005. In 2012, Washington and Colorado became the first states to make recreational marijuana legal.

The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment of 2014 prevented the disruption of state laws governing medical marijuana. Shortly after, banks received federal government-issued guidelines on how to provide financial services for cannabis business owners.

In 2018, the Farm Bill made hemp legal, and Epidiolex became the first FDA-approved marijuana drug.

In 2020, the UN officially acknowledged the health benefits of cannabis and reclassified it.

In 2022, recreational marijuana will be legal in 18 states, while medical marijuana will be legal in 37 states including the District of Columbia and

In April 2022, the U.S. House legislated a bill to legalize and decriminalize marijuana. However, the U.S. Senate is yet to approve it.


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