It has long been known and talked about that hemp has played a role in human history. Archeologists have found traces of hemp products in tombs dating back 8,000 years and have continued to find products made from hemp scattered throughout the world from many different time periods. Hemp was used for rope as early as 200 BC, clothes by 570 when the Queen of France was buried in hemp linens, and hemp paper was used by the Arabs by the year 900. In fact, hemp became so important that by 1533, King Henry VIII fined any farmer who did not raise hemp. Throughout the long history of hemp use, debatably the most important use of hemp was the many ways that hemp fueled the independence of our nation.
In 1607, when the first colonists started their voyage to the Americas, they sailed using hemp made ropes and sails. The hemp aspect was vitally important because it was the best suited material to survive the salty air and water. By 1616, hemp was being raised in the Americas. This crop would be harvested and made into more nautical equipment and clothing. Just 4 years later, the pilgrims would make the same trip using hemp made equipment.
The first industrial cannabis operation in North America was started by Benjamin Franklin when he opened up a hemp paper mill in 1765. The most important thing to come from this mill was Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. This pamphlet was published in January of 1776 and was crucial in convincing the common people of the colonies to separate from the monarchy of England and establish a democratic republic. By April of 1776, there were over 100,000 copies in circulation, all on Franklin’s American made hemp paper. Thomas Paine’s other political works The Rights of Man and The Age of Reason were also published on hemp paper.
Contrary to popular belief, the final and official Declaration of Independence that was signed by the founders was actually written on cured animal skin; but the first several drafts were written on hemp paper, including the draft that immortalized the Fourth of July in American history. In fact, until 1883 almost all American literature was printed on hemp paper including the works of Mark Twain, Frederick Douglas, and Edgar Allan Poe.
Fast forward to 1937 and the Marijuana Tax Act was passed placing a tax on all cannabis sales (including hemp). Many people think that this put a halt to our governments use of Industrial hemp, but by 1942 the USDA started the “Hemp for Victory” program to have farmers help with the war effort by raising 150,000 acres of hemp. That same year, Henry Ford created a car made from hemp fiber. Unfortunately, after World War II was over, the hemp industry continued to decline at the hands of corporate entities and lobbyists. By 1970, all cannabis was included in the ever controversial Controlled Substance Act classified as a Schedule I drug being labeled as dangerous as heroin. In 1996 California became the first state to side with the patients and legalize medical cannabis. Washington, Oregon, and Alaska followed suit with their own medical programs only 2 years later. Now in 2020 there are 11 states with legal adult use and 33 states with their own medical cannabis programs.
From the very moment our country declared independence and immortalized July 4th as Independence Day, cannabis has been here every step of the way. Cannabis sturdied our sails, fueled our military, and now helps us heal. The cannabis industry has created nearly 250,000 full time jobs and has beaten out every financial prediction made; even surviving financial crises. Cannabis has and will continue to fuel the history of the United States (and the world). Happy Independence Day.