The 2018 Farm Bill has been approved by both Houses of Congress and has been sent to President Donald Trump for his signature. There’s a lot of good stuff in this bill, but one thing in particular stands out to me: it allows for the cultivation of industrial hemp.
The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does now allow the cultivation of hemp.
Hemp is a cannabis plant, and it’s related to marijuana. However, it’s not marijuana. It doesn’t have the THC that gives marijuana its “high.” An ardent opponent of legalizing marijuana, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, supported legalizing hemp. No doubt he realized it could be a cash crop for farmers in Kentucky.
Hemp’s value as a crop has been known for centuries. Many people today know hemp ropes are among the best around. Hemp fabrics were used for clothing and ship’s sails since ancient times. Hemp was also used to make paper. Hemp extracts and seeds have healthy benefits. It can also be used to make bio-fuels.
As a crop, hemp produces a higher yield per acre than cotton or flax, and the fabrics are more durable. It also uses a lot less water, although it’s not considered a low-water crop. It’s also better for soil.
In colonial Virginia, farmers had to grow a certain amount of hemp by law. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington both grew hemp.
So, what happened? Let’s start with xenophobia and racism. As Mexican immigrants poured into the United States after the Mexican Revolution of 1910, they brought their habit of smoking marijuana with them. This led to wild stories about how marijuana made people insane and violent, or just plain “uppity” and wanting to go after white women. Starting in the western states, some states banned marijuana.
Enter Harry Anslinger, who, in 1930, was named head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. When Prohibition ended in 1933, he realized the huge federal law enforcement system was about to lose most of its funding. He then began to demonize marijuana, picking up on the wild and false stories about Mexican immigrants and African-Americans who smoked marijuana.
This is a quote from Anslinger on the Foundation for Economic Education Website: “There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others.”
Anslinger was aided in this crusade by the original Mr. Fake News himself, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. He hated Mexicans, partly because he lost Mexican timberland he owned during the Mexican Revolution. He also liked sensationalism as it sold newspapers.
They also wanted to ban hemp, since it was related to marijuana. It should be mentioned that Hearst owned a lot of timberland that was used to make paper, and hemp paper was a rival. Chemical companies also supported banning hemp along with marijuana. They were creating new synthetic fabrics, and they produced chemicals that turned wood into paper.
Hemp farmers were driven into bankruptcy by the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 (that’s the correct spelling of the act). In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act made all forms of cannabis, including hemp along with marijuana, Schedule 1 drugs, considered as dangerous as heroin.
So that’s the ugly story of how an incredibly useful crop like hemp became illegal in the United States.
Mind you, I am not calling for the legalization of marijuana. It is an intoxicant, and it causes harm if misused. It can have long-term bad effects on young brains. It should only be used under a doctor’s care.
What I am saying is that, as we push forward with new policies, it might be useful to look at our past and see where some of the old policies came from.
I believe it’s time Americans had a shot again at raising hemp and seeing what we can do with it.