The history of hemp isn’t pleasant. When we look back at its story, we see one of greed and poor intent.

You have probably heard before that hemp has been around for a long time. You might have even learned about it in history class and its various uses. What you don’t learn in class, however, is the dark history of hemp and where the ancient cash crop sits today.

The oldest known traces of hemp go back to 8,000 B.C. in Mesopotamia (now Iran and Iraq). The plant had a vast history in eastern Europe and Asia, where the majority of hemp was produced. China is known to have the longest relationship with hemp, dating back over 6,000 years. In fact, the Chinese were known as the original inventors of paper, made with hemp.

The history of hemp

Around 1,200 B.C. hemp would make its way to Europe. Here, it became an essential crop grown throughout the continent. It became a common fabric used in ship canvases and rope for its durability. In 1535 King Henry VIII passed an act that “encouraged” farmers to sow at least 1/4 acre of their land for growing hemp, or get fined.

From this time all the way up until the 1920s, over 80% of clothing was made from hemp. There is a history of hemp in the Americas dating back to the 16th century, and it is known that by the time the Puritans landed on Plymouth Rock, hemp had already been there. During the early days of the country’s development, almost every state in the US at the time grew hemp.

The end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th would result in the history of hemp taking a dark turn.

The downfall of hemp

Hemp was essential in the building of the United States as it stands today, but would eventually be pushed out by the rise of cotton. While hemp was more durable and cheaper to produce, cotton was much easier to produce and process. With the introduction of the cotton gin, the end of the potential billion-dollar hemp industry had all but arrived.

With the rise in cotton production and new, petroleum based synthetic textiles along with growing newspaper and lumber conglomerates, the propaganda against hemp began to grow. In a last ditch effort to save the industry, a man named George Schlichten created a machine similar to the cotton gin for hemp.

However by this point the larger companies already had their hands in the pockets of lawmakers, leading the eventual forced taxation and banning of hemp production in the 1930s.

The future of hemp

The history of hemp all but faded after this point. It had a brief rise back to popularity during WWII, when the government gave out seeds to farmers and even released a propaganda film called “Hemp for Victory”. Unfortunately, after the war the ban continued, and the hemp industry in America was dead.

As for Europe however, hemp production continued throughout the continent in numerous countries, mainly Russia, China and France who is currently the largest hemp producer in the world. In Europe, the production of hemp with less than .02% THC is permitted by the EU. This allows large-scale commercial production of hemp. Similar bills have been introduced in the US in recent months, with no success.

It is hard to look at hemp and cannabis and not see the difference between the two. With the already known vast economic benefits of a legal hemp industry, it is baffling that the US has not lifted its ban on the cash crop.

Hear more about the history of hemp in Europe and what the future holds for this incredible plant on The Real Dirt Podcast!

Listen to the episode HERE