hemp history in america

History of Hemp in the USA

A recurring question we hear from our customers is whether hemp CBD oil is legal in their state. The answer is yes! In fact, we were the first company to ship hemp oil products over state lines to customers throughout the U.S. Yet, the path to that simple answer wasn’t always an easy or clear one. The history of hemp in the USA is filled with trials and tribulations across the legal, cultural, and worldwide landscapes. Read on to understand how we’ve reached present day law and usage.

history of hemp in the usaThe History of Hemp in the USA

Hemp’s been around for quite awhile – 10,000 years at least –  and thought to be among the first crops in human history. As a sustainable source, hemp provided food, oil, fiber and a laundry list of other necessities. Before the cultivation of hemp was criminalized in the United States, the versatile and sustainable crop played a major role in the building of a new nation.

Hemp’s Role In Colonial America

Hemp was already being cultivated by Native Americans in the New World when pioneers arrived. Hemp fibers are exceptionally strong and durable, and the plant was used to produce thread, cordage, cloth, paper, and food.

The first recorded use of hemp in America’s colonial years comes from 1632 when the Virginia Assembly mandated “that every planter as soone as he may, provide seede of flaxe and hempe and sowe the same.” Shortly thereafter, courts in Massachusetts and Connecticut passed similar mandates. In the 17th and 18th centuries, farmers cultivated hemp throughout the American colonies and it was exported to England where it was used for clothing, shoes, maps, books, ships rigging, and parachute webbing.  

When the United States earned its independence from Great Britain in the late 18th century, hemp remained a crop staple. It was universally used for baggage, sails, rope, and tents. It was also used by various historical figures and even involved in historic events:

Historical Hemp Facts

  • According to historians, the first drafts of the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.
  • For over 200 years, hemp was considered legal tender that could be used to pay taxes.
  • George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis on their plantations.
  • Abraham Lincoln used hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps.
  • Benjamin Franklin started one of America’s first paper mill, making paper from hemp.
  • Betsy Ross made the first U.S. flag out hemp fabric.
  • You could even be jailed in America for NOT growing cannabis during certain periods of time
  • The U.S.S. Constitution, “Old Ironsides,” was outfitted with over 40 tons of hemp rigging

Hemp in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

As a young nation, America’s reliance on hemp increased throughout the 19th century. Production spread to more states, including Illinois, California and Nebraska. 

Congress passed a law in 1841 that ordered the Navy to purchase hemp from domestic farmers. Technological innovations including the Hemp Dresser and the Decorticator machine revolutionized the industry and improved the efficiency of harvest and manufacturing processes. A Popular Mechanics magazine article published in February of 1938 projected that domestically grown hemp could be worth $1 billion.


Domestic hemp’s dominance in the U.S. took a significant downturn in 1937 when, in an effort to regulate the psychoactive properties of cannabis, the U.S. government passed the Marijuana Tax Act. In what amounted to a smear campaign, opponents of “marijuana” used every tactic in the book to spread lies about “marijuana”, and through guilt-by-association tactics, hemp.

All types of different propaganda, including fear, misinformation, “yellow journalism”, and even racism were used to convince American citizens that  “marijuana” and its users were evil monsters, fueled by madness, and that the plant must be eradicated. This “Reefer Madness” period (taken from the propaganda-filled movie of the same name) had a definite impact on Americans and their views on “marijuana.” Due to hemp’s familial relationship to marijuana and a lack of understanding about the plants’ differences, laws were implemented restricting or prohibiting all cannabis growth. Throughout the 20th century, individual states and the federal government began to criminalize all cannabis. 

While the law didn’t prohibit the growing of hemp, it did turn over the regulation of licensing hemp production to the Department of Revenue and added a $100 transfer tax on sales that basically wiped out domestic farming of hemp.

Now, in recent times, America is experiencing another revolution. This time it’s for hemp and CBD. Read more on this in our article that answers the question, “Is CBD oil legal in all 50 states?

A New President… A New Way

In 2014, President Obama signed into law the Agricultural Act of 2014. Section 7606 of the act, Legitimacy of Industrial Hemp Research, defines industrial hemp as distinct from marijuana. This authorizes institutions of higher education or state department’s of agriculture in states that legalized hemp cultivation to regulate and conduct research and pilot programs. Since then, many states have adopted industrial production laws or begun researching this amazing plant to delve deep into the benefits of hemp CBD.


Recommended Posts

How Long Does CBD Hemp Oil Take To Work? We can address the benefits of CBD hemp oil: how to take it, how it’s made, how safe we make it, etc, etc. However, sooner or later, the same bottom-l...
Best CBD Products for Beginners With the wide selection of CBD products available, it can feel overwhelming for a CBD beginner to select a product for the first time. But even if you...
How to Best Use CBD During the Coronavirus Outbrea... As the world slows down and many people go on lockdown, using CBD oil can be a beneficial tool to promote balance and wellness in you, your family mem...
Building an Attainable Self Care Routine: How CBD ... Finding a realistic self-care approach is key to being more creative, productive, and happy. Learn how using CBD oil can help you achieve and maintain...

There are no products