A brief History of Hemp in the USA

I've been using Hemp for years, but I live in England. Hemp is not CBD and CBD has only recently been introduced to the UK, but Hemp has been around for years.

Marijuana is illegal in the UK, but Hemp is not Marijuana. When I started researching CBD, I was surprised to find that Hemp was illegal in the US until 2018. The confusion about Hemp and Marijuana is partly to blame for it becoming illegal in the 1930s.

Read on, or watch this video to find out more about the history of Hemp in the USA.


Hemp and marijuana are two distinct varieties of the same plant species. However, these definitions have become confused in the last 60 years. It is important to understand the history of usage of these terms in order to eliminate the confusion.

1600-1930s Hemps Long History in North America

The word hemp has been in the English language for over 800 years. The word marijuana is only 100 years old.

From the first settling of North America until the 1930s, hemp was the most common term for Cannabis sativa fibre crops. Marijuana was never used to describe hemp fibre crops, which were grown for canvas, rope, fuel oil, and paper. Hemp fibre crops were historically low THC and completely non-psychoactive.

1930s-1940s Marijuana tax Act confuses Hemp and Marijuana

In the 1930s, the psychoactive (high-THC) variety of cannabis sativa, imported from Mexico, became common in the southern US. It was called marijuana, a word popularised through the Reefer Madness campaign, to distinguish it from the hemp fibre crops (which no-one ever smoked).

In 1937, the passage of the Marijuana tax Act hopelessly confused the terms hemp and marijuana. For the first time, Congress defined these distinct varieties of Cannabis sativa as being the same. What had been commonly known as hemp was now marijuana.

1950s Hemp Crops Become Extinct in the US

In 1957, the last hemp fibre crop was harvested in the US. Because low-THC Cannabis sativa fibre crops were now extinct, the word hemp dropped out of use and was forgotten.

1960s Marijuana Legalisation Movement Begins

In the 1960s, the psychoactive variety of cannabis sativa (Marijuana) became popular among the counter-culture. The movement to legalise marijuana in the 1960s and 1970s did not use the term hemp to describe marijuana.

1985 Hemp/Marijuana Movement Begins

In 1985, the word hemp re-surfaced in the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. This book uncovered information that had been lost for almost 40 years about hemp's historical uses as a fibre crop. The book also touted hemp as a solution to modern environmental problems.

Because The Emperor Wears No Clothes was targeted at a marijuana movement and it was not widely known that low-THC varieties of hemp existed in Europe and Asia, it was believed that marijuana must be legalised to allow industrial uses of hemp. As it was the environmentalists and the counter-culture that began promoting hemp as an alternative fibre crop, they were not taken seriously.

1989 European Farmers Grow Hemp

In Europe, some countries (like France and Spain) had never stopped producing hemp. In 1989, the European Economic Community developed rules to govern hemp production that applied to all its member countries. The EEC defined registered seed varieties for low THC hemp and methods for testing hemp for THC content.

1993-1994 England and Canada Grow Hemp

In 1993, England officially recognised the difference between hemp and marijuana, to make its farmers competitive in the EEC. In 1994, Canada, seeing competition from Europe, allowed hemp production.

1994 Kentucky Appoints Hemp Task Force

In November 1994, the Governor of Kentucky, seeing competition from Canada and Europe, appointed a Task Force to study the commercial possibilities of hemp in his state.

1994-1995 Hemp/Industrial Hemp Movement Begins in US

For the first time, farmers, manufacturers, processors, and agricultural researchers in North America began to take a serious look at hemp as an agricultural crop and alternative fibre. Also the hemp environmentalists within the marijuana movement set up registered seed varieties, to distinguish hemp from marijuana.

This diverse coalition begins using the word industrial hemp (or simply hemp) to refer exclusively to low-THC non-psychoactive varieties of Cannabis sativa. The goal of the industrial hemp movement is to allow legitimate production of hemp fibre crops and to explore the environmental benefits of hemp as an alternative fibre, pulp, and oil source.

January 1995 Colorado Senator Introduces Hemp Legislation

In January 1995, Senator Lloyd Casey (D-Northglenn), made Colorado the first state to attempt to define hemp/industrial hemp as distinct form marijuana when he introduced the Hemp Production Act, but this bill was killed in Committee due to objections from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

October 1995 North American Industrial Hemp Council Formed

In October 1995, the steering committee of the North American Industrial Hemp Council made industrial hemp an entirely distinct issue, separate from the legalisation of marijuana.

January 1996 Colorado and Vermont Introduce Hemp Legislation

Legislators in two states introduced industrial hemp legislation; Sen. Lloyd Casey (D) from Colorado and Rep. Fred Maslack (R) from Vermont.

January 1996 Support for Hemp Grows

A strong coalition of diverse organisations support Industrial hemp, including:

  • American Farm Bureau federation
  • Colorado Farm Bureau
  • Colorado Department of Agriculture
  • Colorado State Grange
  • Kentucky Farm Bureau
  • Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative
  • Wisconsin Agribusiness Council
  • Wisconsin Department of Agriculture
  • International Paper Company
  • Bolton Emerson Americas
  • Colorado Environmental Coalition
  • Oregon Natural Resources Council
  • HIA (Hemp Industries Association)
  • North American Industrial Hemp Council

Most of these groups have specifically stated that they are opposed to the legalisation of marijuana. They realised the difference between hemp/industrial hemp and marijuana and that hemp/industrial hemp can be grown safely without affecting marijuana laws, production, or use.

21st Century Legalisation

The Agricultural Act of 2014 (farm bill) allows agricultural hemp on an experimental basis. Under the 2018 United States farm bill, commodity hemp production was federally legalised across the US.


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