A Brief History of Industrial Hemp Legalization in the United States of America


From the early 1900's to the present-era, learn all about America's rich hemp history: 



Colonist in America were encouraged to grow hemp for the crown in England. In fact, laws were passed in colonial Virginia mandating people grow hemp if they had the means to do so. For over a thousand years hemp fiber has been an integral input for the production of naval accoutrements; and with Britain having the world's largest imperial navy, at the time, it's no secret colonial America would become a hub for this vital resource. 

Once America gained its' independence, forefathers, such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, encouraged the propagation of the 'Indian hempseed' and wanted Americans to 'sow it everywhere.' And, indeed, they did. Hemp became an important crop for several states, especially in Kentucky where the growing conditions are world-renowned. 

Unfortunately, during the post Civil War years, the rapid rise of mechanized textiles skewed consumer demand towards soft staple length cotton fibers over the longer, tougher, less-uniformed, hemp fibers. Hemp fibers were perfect for strudier hand-loomed garments, but 'homespun' fashions were quickly going out of favor in Americas' fastly-growing metropolises. Moreover, imported Russian and Italian hemp goods were still competitive and many American manufacturers preferred importing their fiber needs rather than going through the vigors of establishing domestic fiber grading standards in America. 


The beginning of the 1900’s witnessed the rise of large multi-national conglomerates whom had severe penchants for controlling commodity markets through their omnipotent control of railroads and international shipping ports.  Hemp's traditional markets were overtaken by imported sisal and abaca fibers which were, inevitably, cheaper due to relaxed labor conditions in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula (sisal) and the Philippine Islands (abaca)--which,  from 1901-1935, was a U.S. colony as a consequence of Spain losing the Spanish American War.

From the onset of both World Wars domestic grown hemp valiantly returned to prominence due to the acute uncertainties in the global commodity markets. The U.S. government, especially during World War II, propagated the production of domestic hemp for cordage, twine, caulking, and much more. Moreover, during WW2, the U.S. government went so far as to create the War Hemp Industry board and paid-out $300,000 to build forty hemp mills across the nation. The U.S. Agriculture Department even created a mini documentary exclaiming hemp's virtues, which only points to the government's disingenous shunning of cannabis immediately after the war.  

As the story goes, Harry Anslinger, the head of the Bureau of Narcotics, acted quick to topple the legitimate hemp industry -- for fiber and grain -- once there was no need for hemp as a strategic 'War Crop.' Through underhanded tactics, Harry Anslinger and his cronies dismantled an industry that helped the world during it's most dire hour.


This era will be remembered as the dark ages for cannabis. When Nixon repealed the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 and subsequently added 'Marijuana' to the Schedule I Narcotic List after signing the 'Controlled Substance Act of 1970', he meant to forever banish cannabis from the earth. The CSA Act officially made cannabis into a pariah barring it from any legitimate fields of study beyond law enforcement.

Not until the late 1980's did a generation of Vietnam activist and free-loving hippes come together and embrace all of cannabis' virtues as a natural medicine, renewable resource, and source of income. The notorious Jack Herer emerged as a force to be reckoned with after he published the blockbuster cult-novel, 'The Emperor Wears No Cothes,' which exposed a government-industrial-elitist plot to outlaw the cultivation of hemp. 


During this next epoch the industrial hemp movement began finding its' voice and footing within the political arena. Real reform began within state legislatures much to the displease of the federal bureaucracy. The hemp industry was the epitome of a grassroots movement. It was being pushed by small pockets of activist in Kentucky, Colorado, California, and several other states. 

For example, in Kentucky, farmers, activist, and entrepreneurs re-founded the Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative & Association which had operated during WW2. The purpose of re-starting a seventy-year-old hemp farmer cooperative, although no farmer could legally grow hemp in the 90s', had not only symbolic meaning, but, also, was a pragmatic stratagem. Through initiatives like the KHGCA and Hemp Industries Association (HIA) this nascent industry was able to hobble together a collective voice amidst criticism the movement was nothing more than a 'Trojan Horse' for marijuana legalization. 

After gaining momentum throughout the 1990's, by the end of 90s', and during the beginning of the new millenium, hemp activist and the DEA were at eachothers' throats. And that's not a joke. Anyone who takes the time to watch Hempsters Plant the Seed documentary can watch firsthand how armed DEA agents stormed a sovereign Native American reservation in Pine Ridge North Dakota to destroy a low-THC cannabis crop.

The tribe's hemp crop was planted under a tribal ordinance and protected by treatises penned with the U.S. Government dating back to the 1800's. These Native Americans were far from drug smugglers; quite the opposite, they were relying on this hemp crop -- one of the few crops that could thrive on the arid plains -- to build homes affordably for the tribes' most impoverished families. 

( If you'd like to learn more about what happened during the 1990's hemp activist years you can read Craig Lee's Kentucky Hemp Story by Joe Domino )

In addition to invading sovereign peoples' lands, the DEA flagrantly tried to halt the hemp industry on October 9th, 2001, when it attempted to pass their new 'Interpretive Rules' which would have banned legal hemp foods that were being shipped into the U.S. from Canada. Thankfully, on July 1st, 2002, the 9th Court of District Appeals sided with the hemp industry, ultimately, keeping the dream of American grown hemp horizons alive. 


The foundations established by the 90s' activist -- most notably the formation of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Comission -- set the stage for full-blown hemp legalization. In 2010, the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission, which was setup in the early 2000's and had only met twice up to this point, was nearly forgotten about, yet, was still dormant just waiting to be revived.  Kentucky's legislature originally tasked the KIHC with the legal mandate to prepare the bluegrass state for the inevitable legalization of hemp on the federal level. After ten years since the KIHC's formation there was still no budge in the federal government's stance towards hemp. 

Because of the animal spirits unleashed by the 2008 housing crash, the time was ripe again for the hemp issue to rise to the forefront. And Jamie Comer, who had decided to run for Agriculture Commissioner of Kentucky in 2010, seized the chance to make hemp his primary campaign issue. And Jamie knew he didn't have to create a new platform for the promotion of hemp in the state of Kentucky, because, as the Comissioner of Agriculture, he would be the defacto leader of the Kentucky Industrial Hemp Commission

When Jamie Comer was the only Republican to win on his ballot, including a Democratic Governor, federal big-hitters like Senators Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, and House Representative Thomas Massey, stood up and took notice. Hemp was an issue people cared about. 

Leveraging the momentum that Jamie Comer spurred in the state of Kentucky, Mitch McConnell, now Speaker of the Senate, broke the back of federal hemp prohibition by incorporating industrial hemp into the Federal Farm Bill, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2014. The 2014 Farm Bill allowed farmers to grow low-THC hemp alongside a University research partner; although, producers still would not be allowed to sell their crops for profit. 

Not until Donald Trump signed the 2019 Farm Bill have the gates really opened up for indsutrial hemp nationwide. But with new and exciting opportunities, such as CBD and cannabinoids, will bring with it wild speculation and unexpectant change. One thing is for sure: hemp history never seizes to amaze!


2020 & Beyond?

2019 has been the busiest year yet since hemp prohibition has eroded. The large bureaucratic consumer-protection agencies like the USDA and FDA have begrudgingly been forced to acknowledge an industry which was, until recently, exclusively under the purview of the DEA, the Department of Justice, and U.S. Customs.  

The FDA took public comment on May 30th , 2019, from a broad-spectrum of activist, lobbyist, business-persons, and experts whom all spoke on the issue of cannabis-derived products such as CBD. Although the FDA recognized a wide array of speakers from different backgrounds, the results from the public comment are inconclusive.  Any narrative—the good, the bad, or the ugly—could be cherry-picked from the May 30th presentations.

The most recent news, and the most important to the industry thus far, is the USDA’s recently released interim rules for the Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program which has been nothing short of a bombshell. The new rules include all sorts of caveats and should be read firsthand, or you can watch this video we shared below. Developments in this growing industry are fast-moving. We will try to keep this page updated!


Author’s Note

The most tragic part about America’s hemp history is that, whenever we’re in a pickle, hemp always seems to be there to save the day, then the 'powers that be' incorrigibly and irreverently toss the hemp crop aside, like a used rag, when it has served its' intended purpose. For example, during both world wars, when hemp made a resurgence as a naval necessity, only to be squashed immediately afterwards when the wars ended; then, if that wasn't bad enough, hemp was subsequently and surreptitiously erased from the history textbooks.

And here we are, in the modern-era, enduring an opioid crisis, mental health crisis, veteran suicide crisis, and many more crises which the cannabis plant, if properly and carefully researched, could assist in some matter. Cannabis needs to be given its’ due respect, for the sake of humanity, within the halls of courts, academia, and legislatures.

As long as the media fear-mongering machine and bureaucratic ego-wrangling persists, American society, as a whole, will never fully realize and truly appreciate the full spectrum of benefits the cannabis plants has to offer. Benefits, many of which, that have yet to be discovered.

Gourmet Hemp Foods stands by the free market principles this great nation was built upon and will continue fighting for every man, woman, and child’s right to benefit from this plant through safest and most responsible means known. If you'd like to join us in our mission to 'Awaken the World to the Benefits of Hemp,' please reach out.

We're always looking for great content creators and food innovators to help us. Lastly, by purchasing any of our sauces and pastas also helps us a great deal to continue providing the ducation and sustenance you crave! 

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