Is Hemp Legal in the USA?
Now? Yes, though that hasn’t always been the case. To discuss this topic properly, we’ll need to go over a bit of history on the United States and cannabis.
America and Hemp: A Brief History
From the early years of America hemp was a prized crop, grown primarily through the mid-east and southern regions of the country. Valued for its sheer diversity in uses, many of America’s “founding fathers” pushed farmers to sow the crop, and pre-Civil War era America saw hemp as one of the most common crops grown on slave plantations.
After slavery was abolished cannabis – the type meant to smoke – began growing in popularity throughout the southern regions of the United States, often shared and spread among former slaves and immigrants from Latin America or the Caribbean islands. By this time hemp was still an important cash crop for American farmers – One large and diverse enough to threaten other established industries.
The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937
Before going any further, a disclaimer: Reports of exactly what lead up to the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 are murky, and unlikely to be verified or fully understood any time in the near future. Common theory and sentiment, though, is that the invention of the “decorticator”, a machine that mechanically separates hemp fiber from its woody core, had other textile fabricators nervous. With an automated machine able to handle the labor-intensive process of breaking down the hemp plant, other textiles and fabrics would likely soon face stiff competition, potentially even destroying industries such as wood pulp producers.
Combined propaganda assaults from deep-pocketed paper, cotton, and nylon moguls tied both hemp and marijuana to racist fears, with outlandish reports of (typically non-white) citizens flying into drug-addled rages crafted for the purpose of inciting terror in the American populace – see cinematic masterpiece “Reefer Madness” as an example.
Once these industries were able to tie together the concepts of smoking cannabis and the “dangerous Other” in the minds of white America it was sadly easy to pass legislation effectively banning the cultivation and sale of all forms of cannabis, hemp included. Sadly easy and, as coming years would point out, also incredibly stupid and short-sighted.
America Goes to War
Enter World War II, bringing with it a vast need for hemp material. Before this point America had been importing most of its industrial hemp from countries in south-east Asia it was now at war with, meaning the US military machine was sorely lacking on basic, high-quality textiles .
After releasing “Hemp for Victory“, a war-time propaganda film produced by the United States Dept. of Agriculture in 1942, the American government began dispensing special permits to a multitude of farmers for the production of industrialized hemp, bypassing the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act. Hemp production began to boom again, but this new bubble was soon set to burst.
The Rise of Synthetic Textiles
In post-war America hemp was no longer as valuable, with advancements in synthetic fibers such as acrylic and polyester making the labor-intensive process of gathering hemp less economically feasible.
Prior to the turn of the century the last legal industrial hemp field in the United States was planted in the early 1950s. Past this the US government doubled down on it’s prohibition against hemp in the 1970s, by adding it and marijuana to the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug – On the same tier as heroin, and considered “more dangerous” than methamphetamine and benzodiazepines (Xanax, et al.).
Finally Legal Again
After many more years of various experiments and governmental missteps the Agricultural Improvement Bill of 2018 (aka the 2018 “Farm Bill”) finally removed industrial hemp from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing farmers to finally plant the the psychoactively inert textile once again. The timing of this farm bill is rather interesting, considering the recent rise of…