Cannabis Manual: Hemp History

Joshua Lee
4 min read
George Washington fields
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Now that hemp is legal again, you might be asking yourself how we got to such a bizarre point where criminalizing a natural resource that doesn’t even get you high could seem like a reasonable act. It’s wild to think that during most of history, hemp has grown right alongside humanity, making life for those weird hairless monkeys easier and more pleasurable.

To better explain the strange turn of events, it’s important to understand that hemp and cannabis are the same plant (no matter what you’ve heard), and are separated only by their THC content. In America, cannabis was such an accepted part of life that when US Narcotics Commissioner Henry Anslinger needed to convince Congress to regulate the drug in 1937, he had to use the term “
marihuana” to confuse them about which drug was actually being discussed (this is a popular narrative, in any case).

So when “marihuana” became regulated, hemp had to follow suit,
because it’s the same plant. This had detrimental effects not only for the medical cannabis industry of the time (yes, there was one), but for the industrial hemp industry. This has led to a number of conspiracy theories about the reasoning behind the move—including that newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst pushed the idea because he owned timber holdings and wanted to squeeze out hemp competition; or that petrochemical giant DuPont placed political pressure on lawmakers to keep hemp from overtaking the plastics market.

Take a look at the history of hemp and cannabis in the West and see what theories you develop.

8000 B.C.

Hemp cords were discovered in modern day Taiwan at the site of an ancient village dating back to over 10,000 years, making hemp one of the oldest known agriculture crops.

4000 B.C.

Hemp is grown in China as a food source. It’s considered one of the Chinese “
five grains.”

2000-1400 B.C.

The Scythians, a nomadic Indo-European group, use cannabis in “
vapor baths” for its psychotropic properties.

1500-1000 B.C.

Cannabis listed as
one of five sacred plants in the Hindu Vedas.

1550 B.C.

The Egyptian
Ebers Papyrus mentions cannabis used as a treatment for colorectal cancer and headaches.

1100 A.D.

Arabic scholars use cannabis for its medicinal properties. Physicians al-Mayusi and al-Badri use it to
treat epilepsy.

1500 A.D.

Spanish traders
bring cannabis to South America. They encourage its production in the colonies they set up there.


King James I requires every property owner in Jamestown, America’s first British colony, to grow 100 plants of hemp for export by
royal decree.


George Washington, who has cultivated hemp his entire life, questions whether it would be a better crop alternative to tobacco. He reportedly
decides to grow wheat.


Cannabis is widely available as a
tincture in American pharmacies.


The American media begins producing
anti-Mexican narratives blaming the nation’s low employment rates on Mexican immigrants.


Marihuana Tax Act introduces a tax to the sale of all cannabis or hemp products.


The Controlled Substances Act classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug—meaning it is considered to have no medical uses and have a high danger of causing dependency.


President Richard Nixon says his administration is initiating “
an all-out offensive” against drug abuse. This is later referred to as the “war on drugs.”


New Mexico becomes the
first state to legalize medical cannabis. No program is set up to facilitate it, however.


Drug Abuse Resistance Education program (
D.A.R.E) introduced to American schools. The program teaches children that marijuana is a “gateway drug” and encourages them to turn their parents in to authorities if they suspect drug use in the home.


First Lady Nancy Reagan launches the “
Just Say No” program, encouraging children and teens to reject peer pressure to try drugs.


Californians pass the Compassionate Use Act, making medical cannabis legal in their state and encouraging the creation of a medical cannabis program. This ushers in the modern era of cannabis legislation.


Colorado legalizes recreational cannabis.


2014 Farm Bill signed by President Barack Obama, distinguishing hemp from marijuana and allowing it to be cultivated for research purposes.


2018 Farm Bill signed, legalizing hemp.
Just Say No

Marihuana tax

Colorado state seal

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