1545-1839: HEMP AS A CASH CROP
Spanish colonialists introduced hemp the the Americas in the middle 1500s. Cannabis had become a staple crop in New England by the 1630s, and President George Washington is known to have grown hemp at Mt. Vernon because it was a more profitable alternative to tobacco at the time. Spain continued to encourage hemp in the colony of Louisiana as a way to offset the support their shipping endeavors and offset the costs of their North American colonies.
1840-1906: THE GOLDEN AGE OF MEDICAL CANNABIS
When an Irish physician named William Brooke O’Shaughnessy traveled to India in the 1830s, he learned of the medical application of cannabis. Over the next 100 years, uses for the extract expanded widely throughout the Western world, used as treatment for everything from epilepsy to mood disorders. By the turn of the 20th century some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies were also in the market.
Tied closely to its cousin, marijuana, hemp was swept up in the temperance movement. Regulations against the cannabis plants began in 1906 with the creation of the FDA and gradually increased until 1937, when the plant was essentially banned by the Marihuana Tax Act. Hemp experienced a short-lived American revival during WWII when the Tax Act was briefly lifted to encourage hemp fiber production to create ropes for the US Navy.
1990-2018: HEMP STAGES A COMEBACK
In the early 1990s, interest in hemp cultivation was on the upswing and several states began devoting resources to studying agricultural hemp. When California residents passed Prop 215, allowing for medical marijuana consumption in 1996, the tide began to turn back towards a focus on the benefits of the cannabis plant and its many uses. In 2014 the federal Farm Bill legalized research programs around hemp cultivation. Finally, in the 2018 Farm Bill industrial hemp production was legalized at the federal level with regulatory control being passed on to the States.