The History of Hemp in America

The History of Hemp in America

Everyone talks about hemp, no one knows its history. Hemp has a unique background, making it crucial for consumers to focus on the history of hemp and not just the new products that people are creating because of it.

Hemp cultivation dates back to 8000 BCE from regions in Asia, which we now call China and Taiwan. Over 10,000 years of cultivation put this plant at one of the first and oldest agricultural commodities known to humanity.

As the years passed, hemp started appearing in different parts of the world such as Russia, Greece, Europe, Jerusalem, Persia, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Spain, Brazil, and more. In religious Hinduism and Persian documents, historians even referred to hemp as “Sacred Grass” and “King of Seeds.”

Throughout those years, people harvested hemp for its seeds and oil, as it was very rich in amino acids and nutrients. However, societies quickly realized that hemp could be used to make paper, pottery, rope, fishing nets, and thousands of other materials.

As hemp grew in popularity, North Americans became acquainted with the plant, adopting it in 1606 — and American farmers began harvesting it in the same ways ancient cultivators did. American farmers used hemp for rope, paper, clothing, and even lamp fuels. By the 1700s, it was illegal for farmers not to grow hemp.

Founding fathers George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp — and Betsy Ross made the first American Flag using industrial hemp. Hemp was being grown by many Americans and it was bettering the environment and providing people around the world with healthy and natural resources.

However, due to negative propaganda, cannabis as a whole, including hemp, was made illegal in 1970 under the Controlled Substances Act. This criminalization systematically led people across the nation away from a natural resource and a healthy alternative to conventional medicine.

Common misconceptions throughout the history of hemp

The criminalization of hemp gave way to many misconceptions about hemp and its relationship to marijuana. Biologically speaking, hemp and marijuana are both a part of the cannabis genus known as Cannabis sativa. However, these two plants are entirely different in many ways.

1. Physical appearance

Regardless of what some may say, hemp and marijuana can be identified fairly easily. To the untrained eye, this may be a different story. But when you know what to look for, it can be easy to see their differences.

The first differentiating indicator is the height of these two plants. Marijuana is a short, bushy-like plant. Its leaves are more broad with dense buds and have tiny organ-like hairs covering it. The hemp plant, however, is much taller, averaging 20 ft in height. Its frame and leaves are skinnier in size, with its leaves concentrated toward the top of the plant.

2. Chemical makeup

Another main difference between these two plants is their chemical makeup and, more specifically, how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is found in each. People understand that THC is responsible for the psychoactive effect that creates a “high.”

On average, marijuana naturally contains about 5-20% of THC, while some premium strains contain 25-30% of THC potency. However, hemp only contains trace amounts of THC, a maximum of 0.3%, which makes it impossible for you to receive a psychoactive effect.

3. Genders

Like all plant species, there is a male and a female. Most people believe hemp is the male marijuana plant — but hemp can be male, female or both. To assess the gender of the hemp plant, farmers have to look at the buds as soon as they start to develop.

Initially, all of the buds will look the same. However, a male plant will eventually develop characteristics that look like testicles, and seeds will form in that part of the plant. Farmers have to get rid of those plants because one male can pollinate around four thousand females, turning everything into seeds. But if the male plants don’t fertilize, the harvest will turn into blossom, resulting in resin that will be the female hormone.

Where hemp stands federally and legally

The history of hemp is marked by a government that criminalized the plant in 1970. But in more modern times, hemp is making a comeback.

The 2014 Farm Bill became the topic of discussion everywhere for people in the hemp industry. The new law indicated that under certain circumstances, industrial hemp could be grown in a state as long as farmers grew it under the counsel of “institutions of higher education.” This rule meant that, in order to grow hemp, it had to be for agricultural or academic research, such as agricultural pilot programs permitted by the federal law.

Moreover, the legislation defined hemp as a cannabis plant that contained no more than 0.3% of THC on a “dry weight basis,” as THC was a Schedule I controlled substance. But even plants with 0.3% or less concentration of THC were still considered illegal if a non-licensed grower was harvesting the plant.

Insert the 2018 Farm Bill. This legislation hit a significant milestone in the hemp industry, which went into effect in January 2019. This bill stated that the cultivation and production of hemp were legal in all 50 states as long as hemp plants didn’t exceed 0.3% of THC.

Additionally, and more importantly, this bill helped change the classification of hemp, transitioning it from a Schedule I controlled substance to a legal remedy. This new classification means that hemp and hemp-derived products can now be purchased and sold without the federal law intervening. Moreover, hemp extract companies can now take full advantage of banks, insurance, and other processes around the market.

A timeline of hemp

The legalization of hemp-derived products is a significant victory for the industry because it’s taken a while for companies to accomplish this goal. For a succinct timeline that covers the history of hemp and explains everything that happened from 8000 BCE to the 2018 Farm Bill, check out the information below.

The beginnings of hemp

8000 BCE:

Hemp cultivation starts in Asia. After the discovery of hemp in Asia, cultivators found the plant in Europe, Africa, and South America. In these places, people used hemp seeds and oil for pottery and food.

2000 BCE – 800 BCE:

Hemp is referred to as “sacred grass” in Hindu religious documents. The plant is also considered a gift and becomes one of the five sacred plants in India.

600 BCE:

Hemp rope is discovered in Southern Russia.

500 BCE:

People continue to use hemp throughout northern Europe. A jar of hemp leaves and seeds is found in Germany.

100 BCE:

Cultivators in China start to use hemp to make paper. People also discover hemp rope in Britain.

570 – 900:

A French Queen was found buried in hemp clothing. In China and the Middle East, the first hemp paper mills appear. Additionally, the Vikings start to use hemp and they spread it to Iceland. Then, the Arabs implement technology to develop hemp paper.


King Henry VII, the King of England, makes hemp a priority by fining farmers if they don’t grow it.

1549 – 1616:

South American (Brazil) gets introduced to cannabis. Later on, Jamestown, the first English settlement in the Americas, starts to grow hemp to make clothing, sails, and ropes. 


American law requires farmers to grow hemp as a staple crop. Some of American’s founding fathers also advocated for the benefits of hemp. American farmers are required by law to grow hemp as a staple crop, with many of America’s founding fathers advocating for its benefits.


Founders of the U.S. use hemp paper to write drafts of the Declaration of Independence.


Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to power the lamps in his house.

Hemp in the 20th century and beyond


The USDA publishes a report that indicates hemp produces 4x more paper per acre than trees.

1937 – 1938:

The government implemented the Marijuana Tax Act, which placed a tax on all cannabis sales, including hemp. This tax significantly discouraged the production of hemp. Soon after, an article about gets published in Popular Mechanics—the piece explains the  25,000 products that can include hemp.


Henry Ford develops a car body that’s made with hemp fiber, a component that’s 10x stronger than steel. In the same year, the USDA starts the “Hemp for Victory” program. This initiative encourages farmers to support the war by growing hemp. results in more than 150,000 acres of hemp production.


Farmers plant the last U.S. commercial hemp fields in Wisconsin.


The Controlled Substances Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug. This classification groups the plant with LSD and heroin. Strict regulations also hampered hemp production. 


The U.S. has food-grade hemp oil and seeds imported for use.

2004 – 2007:

In Hemp Industries Association vs. DEA, the Ninth Circuit Court decided to permanently protect sales of hemp body care products and food in the U.S. A few years later, two North Dakota farmers get the first hemp licenses in over 50 years.


U.S. President Barack Obama signs the Farm Bill in law. This bill allows research institutions to pilot hemp programs.

2015 – 2016:

The House and Senate introduce The Industrial Hemp Farming Act (H.R. 525 and S. 134). This act is the first of many attempts to fully legalize hemp. Soon after, a Colorado farm gets an Organic certification from USDA for its hemp.


On December 20, 2018, U.S. President Trump signs the 2018 Farm Bill, legalizing hemp and removing it from the Controlled Substances Act.

The uses of hemp

With the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp is starting to become increasingly relevant in American society again. The fiber found in the hemp plant has been used to make a wide range of products, from twine and rope to clothes, fishnets, and thousands of other textiles that we use daily. For example, here are the most popular products made out of hemp that we are seeing in our stores today.

1. Skincare 

It’s no secret that hemp produces some of the best oils on the market today. Hemp alone contains a number of nutrients, and it’s high in essential fatty acids. Applying hemp-derived body oils or lotions can moisturize the skin and help with cell regeneration, such as dry or cracked skin.

2. Paper

Hemp paper is not only durable, but it’s also environmentally friendly, as it prevents the use of trees and helps protect wildlife. Moreover, it’s much more economical, too, which is why more people are using it. 

3. Clothing

As we know, hemp is very durable. Clothing types such as jeans, sportswear, lingerie, and other fashionable apparel undergo some wear and tear over time. Hemp clothing, however, not only lasts longer, but it’s also very comfortable, and again, great for the environment. Clothing companies like Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, and even Armani use hemp fibers in their sought-after products.

The future of hemp

As hemp continues to increase its presence once again, the plant will become more of a cash crop across the United States. The advantages of legalizing hemp will go much further than the therapeutic benefits of hemp extracts and skincare products. In fact, people are starting to create plastics and biofuel using hemp.

The plant is even being used to help clean up sites filled with heavy metals and pollution. Hemp is such a sustainable crop that people are using it as an alternative for concrete, cotton, and a number of other materials that are used daily. Taking steps to incorporate hemp into our day-to-day activities will not only help us feel better, but it will also improve the environment we live in as well.

Know someone who always has questions about the history of hemp? Share this article with them so they have the full scoop.

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