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Industrial Hemp: A History and Overview of the Super Crop—and its Trillion-Dollar Future

Industrial Hemp: A History and Overview of the Super Crop—and its Trillion-Dollar Future
January 15, 2016 Ho‘oulu Staff
In Culture, Design, Lifestyle

Part I: The Plants

The Genus Cannabis clearly has three distinct species: C. sativa, C. indica, C. ruderalis. Cannabis is the only plant genus in which can be found the unique class of molecules known as cannabinoids. Cannabis produces two major cannabinoids: THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol), and several other minor cannabinoid compounds. THC is responsible for the psychoactive effect, while CBD blocks the effect of THC on the nervous system. All Cannabis plants have stem fiber.

Cannabis Plant

Cannabis Plant

  1. sativa L. is the industrial crop of hemp and is grown for its fiber (the fiber type). This has a low level of THC, below 0.3 percent and higher levels of CBD, which blocks the effect of THC. No marijuana high can be produced. The stem is the source of the fiber. It is an agriculture crop.
  2. indica L. is grown for THC, the psychoactive effect (pure drug type). This has higher levels of THC content (2-6 percent) and lacking CBD. This is a horticulture crop that is grown to promote flower production. The superior quality material is obtained from seedless plants called “sinsemilla”.
  3. ruderalis L. is grown wild or is grown for its birdseed and oil. This is the intermediate type (predominantly low THC). Purity is critical to marketability. This feral hemp is also called ditchweed and provides food and a habitat for birds. This is what DEA is eradicating.

Part II: The History

Hemp (Cannabis Sativa L.) is one of the oldest plants that has been in continuous use by human civilization. A piece of hemp fabric is one of the oldest artifacts found on the planet. It is amazing that it has endured for over 8,000 years. In 1977, Carl Sagan suggested that marijuana may have been the world’s first agriculture crop, leading to the development of civilization itself.

Around 600 BCE, hemp rope appears in southern Russia. Around 500 BCE, hemp seeds and leaves of the Cannabis plant are included in burial sites. China (100 BCE) and the Arabs (900 BCE) discover ways to make hemp paper. Hemp rope shows up in England (100 BCE) and for the next 700 years, most of the paper is made with hemp.

America could not have waged its revolution without hemp. For the next 150 years, hemp was the top cash crop in America. Kentucky in 1776 begins to grow hemp. The Declaration of Independence was drafted on hemp paper. Hemp plantations flourished in the Eastern and Southern states. More medicinal preparations are developed and are available. Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps.

After 1906, there began to be laws prohibiting the use of marijuana. The Harrison Act of 1914 in the U.S. defined the use of marijuana (among other drugs) as a crime.

Many states passed anti-marijuana laws from 1914-1927: Utah (1915), California (1915), Texas (1919), Louisiana (1924) and New York (1927). The rest of the timeline is as follows:

1919 The 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution banned alcohol and positioned marijuana as an alternative. 1933 the U.S. Congress repealed the 21st Amendment, ending alcohol prohibition.

1928 The Canadian House of Commons encourages farmers to grow hemp.

1936 The American propaganda film “Reefer Madness” was made to scare American youth away from using Cannabis.

1937 The U.S. Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, which criminalized the drug. William C. Woodward testified before Congress and said: “The American Medical Association knows of no evidence that marijuana is a dangerous drug.” His testimony was ignored. It is interesting to note that William Randolph Hearst, who had significant financial interests in the timber industry (which manufactured his newsprint paper), wrote many newspaper articles against hemp. These articles were used as part of the testimony Congress used to support the ban.

1941-1942 Henry Ford builds an experimental car body made from hemp fiber, which is ten times stronger than steel and four times stronger than metal. His car ran on hemp ethanol fuel.

1941 The U. S. Pharmacopoeia removed Cannabis and its medical uses were no longer recognized in America.

The USDA develops a “Hemp for Victory” film in 1942-1943, to support the war effort. It encouraged everyone to grow hemp. Hemp was used for parachutes, rope, webbing, shoes, clothes and much more. Rewards, benefits and exceptions were given to farmers who grew hemp.

1951 The Boggs Act and the Narcotics Control Act in the U.S. increase all drug penalties and laid down mandatory sentences. 1957 Hemp is banned in the U.S. 1958 The last hemp crop has been harvested and processed.

1961 The United Nations allows the cultivation of Industrial Hemp.

1960s-70s Presidents Nixon and Carter pushed for the decriminalization of marijuana.

1970 The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act repealed mandatory penalties for drug offenses; marijuana was categorized separately from other narcotics. Expert testimony that suggested marijuana has a clearly established medical use and should be reclassified as a prescriptive drug is ignored.

1972 The Shafer Commission urged that the use of cannabis be re-legalized, their recommendation is ignored. 1977-1981 President Carter, including Dr. Peter Bourne, his assistant for drug policy, pushed for decriminalization of marijuana. President Carter asked Congress to abolish federal criminal penalties for those caught with less than an ounce of marijuana.

1986 President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, reinstating mandatory minimums and raising federal penalties for possession and distribution and officially begins the U.S. international “war on drugs”.

1988 Francis Young, a U.S. DEA administrative law Judge, finds, after thorough hearings, that marijuana has a medical use that is clearly established. It should be reclassified as a prescriptive drug; all his findings are ignored.

1991 The first Hempfest started in Volunteer Park in Seattle, Wash., and has become an annual festival every third week of August for the last 23 years.

`           1996 The tide begins to turn in California, which was the first state to ban marijuana, was the first state to re-legalize medical marijuana for the use of very ill people. Many states followed: Arizona, Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Washington D.C., Hawaii, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont.

1997 The American Office of National Drug Control Policy commissioned the Institute of Medicine (IOM) to conduct a comprehensive study of the medical efficacy of cannabis. The report concluded that cannabis is a safe and effective medicine. The federal government completely ignored the report.

1997 President Clinton continues the “war on drugs” and began a campaign to arrest and prosecute medical cannabis patients and their providers in California and elsewhere.

1998 Canada once again allows hemp to be grown. (By 2001, Canada adopts federal laws in support of medical marijuana, and by 2003, it adopts a nationwide program to approve medical marijuana and is the first country in the world to do so.)

1999 Hawaii and North Dakota unsuccessfully attempt to legalize hemp farming.

2000 Alaska’s attempt to legalize marijuana fails.

2001-2009 The “war on drugs” is intensified under President Bush and targets both patients and doctors in California.

2001 The Hemp Industries Association (HIA), and other companies, take legal action against the DEA because they were beginning a campaign to make sales of all hemp foods illegal in the US. 2004 a three-year legal battle ensues. The U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals issues a permanent ruling on February 6, blocking the DEA regulations and blocking their prohibition policy finding it is on unfounded grounds.

2009   President Obama began ending the very unsuccessful 20-year “war on drugs”. He declared that individual drug use is a public health issue and federal prosecutors will no longer pursue medical marijuana users and distributors who comply with state laws. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder declared in 2010 that the federal authorities would continue to prosecute individuals and organizations that possess, manufacture and distribute marijuana for recreational use.

2010 California’s Proposition 19 is narrowly defeated.

2010 Hemp foods are becoming a stable in many diets. More than 30 countries legally grow it and at present. China, Russia and Korea produce over four-fifths of the majority of the industrial hemp. Canada, Australia, Great Britain and France grow hemp.

2011 The United States is the only developed country that has not established hemp as an agricultural crop.

2013 Uruguay becomes the first country in the world to legalize all aspects of marijuana.

2014 The states of Alaska, Oregon, Washington and Colorado legalized cannabis for recreational use.

2014 President Obama legalizes limited hemp farming in the United States.

2015 In a 4 to 1 vote, the Mexican Supreme Court decided that consumption and cultivation of cannabis is a fundamental human right for the free development of one’s personality.

What is very clear from the history and timeline is that the federal government was not interested in facts and truth. They were only interested in their agenda of harassment and it is interesting that they went after the most vulnerable people, those that need marijuana medicinally, their providers and doctors. They also totally ignore the states’ rights and laws. .

The Hearst and DuPont families are very powerful. With powerful newspaper articles, Hearst was able to confuse the populace. The confusion was over the difference between marijuana and industrial hemp. Marijuana that is attractive to drug users has a THC level (which is responsible for the psychoactive effect) between 5 to 20 percent, the higher percent being the desired material. Industrial hemp contains 0.3 percent or less of THC and has higher levels of CBD (cannabidiol), which counteracts and effect that THC may have. It would be impossible to get high on industrial hemp. The disinformation spin was to confuse people into thinking that marijuana and industrial hemp were the same thing and had the same ability to get people high. Hearst effectively eliminated any threat to his vast forest holdings. DuPont had developed new plastics and wanted to eliminate the competition with hemp, which had many advantages over the plastics.

In 1970, the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act was repealed which had allowed for industrial hemp. The 1970 Act applied to all parts of the plant and effectively eliminated industrial hemp as a commercial crop. The federal government has long recognized the distinction between hemp and marijuana. The DEA has the authority to recognize this history and to drop hemp from its narcotics schedule. Instead, the DEA is aggressively trying to persuade Americans that hemp and marijuana are identical plants. The results are widespread confusion and the American farmers and manufacturers are unable to take part in the worldwide resurgence of hemp cultivation and use.

The key is seed certification, to a regulated hemp industry. The burden of producing hemp varieties compliant with the prescribed THC threshold falls on the seed producer and breeding operation. THC content is genetically determined. Other countries have not had a problem with theft from their agricultural fields of industrial hemp.

In the United States, hemp seeds must be kept in a locked safe. The fields must be surround by a 10-foot-high, barbed wire topped fencing, illuminated 24 hours a day, and guarded. With all this, the DEA has not issued a permit to grow hemp.

Half of all the drug arrests in the United States are for marijuana. That means that more than two million people have been kept in prison for no real reason—and their lives are ruined.

All of the hemp material used in the United States is grown outside of the U.S. It is a $500 million crop that our farmers and manufacturers are not able to take part in. The future is estimated at more than a trillion dollars.

The Farm Bill allowed colleges and universities to grow and study hemp. The U.S. Senate added a key measure extending the rights to state agriculture departments. This cleared the way for states to license individual farmers to grow hemp. Kentucky and North Carolina are aggressively pursuing industrial hemp for their farmers.

Part III: Modern Uses for the “Super Crop” Industrial Hemp   

Hemp can be used for an amazing number of products—and the list is still growing. There are at least 30,000 uses. Hemp can be used for food; hemp seeds are an incredible source of a complete protein. They are used in health food products like granola, hemp milk, protein and organic body care products. The oil can be used for hair and skin care, as well as detergent. Hemp fiber is used in textiles, biofuel, building material, medicine, paper, cordage, hemp-derived cellulose for plastic composites and a great deal more uses.

Hemp is naturally resistant to most pests, so very little herbicides or pesticides are used to grow it. It can be grown very close together, so it maximizes the use of the land and crowds out the weeds. It is an excellent crop for crop rotation. It builds up and revitalizes the soil by aerating the soil and depositing carbon dioxide, so a food crop could be planted immediately after a hemp harvest without leaving the land fallow. Hemp grows in a wide variety of climates and soil types.

It is a natural substitute for cotton and wood fiber. Hemp is 10 times stronger than cotton and is one of the strongest plant fibers. Cotton only grows in warm climates and requires enormous amounts of water. Cotton requires enormous pesticide use; 50 percent of all pesticides used in the U.S. are used on cotton. Hemp requires no herbicides and few or no pesticides and it grows in all 50 states. Hemp produces 250 percent more fiber that cotton and 600 percent more fiber than flax using the same amount of land.

Hemp is ready to harvest quickly. Within four months of being planted, hemp grows 10 to 20 feet tall. This will save chopping down millions of trees and destroying wildlife habitat. It will prevent erosion of topsoil due to logging and reduce pollution of lakes, rivers and streams. Hemp can be pulped using fewer chemicals than wood because of its low lignin content. Its natural brightness can obviate the need to use chlorine bleach. A single acre of hemp can produce four times more paper than one acre of trees. No other plant on earth is capable of producing as much paper per acre as hemp. It is stronger, more durable and its fiber is much purer than that of wood.

Hemp building materials can be substituted for and are much stronger that wood. They can be manufactured cheaper than wood and will reduce building costs.

Over 50 percent of the mature hemp plants weight is in its seeds, Hemp oil is very high protein and can be used for animal and human consumption; it can also be used to make highly nutritious foods, as well as paint, varnish, ink and lubricating oils and plastic substitutes.

The high cellulose level of hemp is perfect for make ethanol fuel production. Ethanol is the cleanest burning liquid bio-alternative to gasoline. When the hemp biodiesel combusts it releases water vapor and CO2, which is absorbed by plants.

These products are nontoxic, biodegradable and renewable. Hemp requires very little effort and very few resources. A wide variety of clothing made from 100 percent hemp is now available.

Part IV: Hemp in Hawaii

On Feb. 7, 2014, the 2013 Farm Bill was signed into law, legitimizing industrial hemp as distinct. It authorized university and State departments of agriculture (where it is legal) to conduct research or pilot programs. Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the legislation into law that will permit the cultivation of industrial hemp for research dedications in his state on May 2014 for a two-year program.

“It’s crazy fast,” said Dr. Harry Ako, the lead researcher for UH Manoa’s Industrial Hemp Project. Ako was describing how fast the hemp grows; in just 10 weeks, several plants have grown nearly 10 feet in height. “They grow so fast, they destroy the weeds underneath,” he explained.

Hawaii State Rep. Cynthia Thielen has long championed the effort to bring industrial hemp to Hawaii. “I’m so excited, it means so much for our farmers and our entrepreneurs,” she said.

Other elected officials share her excitement.

“This is an amazing plant,” said State Sen. Mike Gabbard. “It’s going to be a boon for Hawaii farmers and for the Hawaii economy.”

State Rep. Chris Lee sees it an economic driver. “This can put people to work and put dollars back into our economy and market globally,” he said.

Hawaii has the distinction of being the first and only state to receive a DEA permit for the production of hemp. The permit was issued in 1999 and has since expired.

Part V: Maui’s “Hemp House”




Denise Key, an advocate for industrial hemp on Maui, provided the tour of the South Maui property where the “hemp house” was built. Key has been very involved with the move to have hemp approved to grow in Hawaii.

The home is made of hempcrete and is a very breathable house. Maui residents Don and Joy Nelson worked with local architect George Rixey, who also built the home. The first phase of construction was to complete the ohana unit for Don’s daughter, Lee McBride.

“I find the house very comfortable,” McBride said. “We just had our screen doors installed and the outside is now finished… we love the home.”

The second phase of construction, which is now underway, is the four-car garage (with a poker room above) and the third phase will be the 4,500-square-foot main house, which will also be built with hempcrete.

Hemp Ohana, Adam Rixey, Denise Key

Hemp Ohana, Adam Rixey, Denise Key



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Comments (8)

  1. Rachel 2 years ago

    Thank you for sharing this very thoughtful and insightful look at the history of hemp and marijuana. It’s amazing to see that so many cases for legalizing marijuana were just plain ignored, and with no cited reason. I am curious to see what the future holds for the legalization of marijuana, and how it will change global cultures and societies.

  2. Fred Brown 2 years ago

    While recreational pot usage is controversial, many people agree and believe that the drug should be legal for medical uses. Online Budz

  3. Peter s Dixon 1 year ago

    Thanks for your work top notch

  4. Don 9 months ago

    I would LOVE a hempcrete house!
    There are SO MANY uses for hemp, it’s a shame that it’s been maligned for so long.
    Great article!

  5. Lori Yaphe-Delisle 8 months ago

    I say it’s high time we all begin growing hemp! This country needs to wake up and get rid of the false stigma’s surrounding this amazing plant! We need sustainable and renewable resources and here is one of the most proven and promising of all. You’d think our government would wake up and decide we could be come a world leader in hemp cultivation….

    Hemp….food for thought….

  6. bob shamp 7 months ago

    Yes your information is not correct or Smithsonian previously misled me they toldme declaration of independence and constitution were written on parchment that being an animal skin.I think marijuana is a wonderful agricultural product with wonderful historical value but I would also like to be informed with true facts thanks have a great day.

  7. L Murphy 7 months ago

    I am so ashamed and disappointed in the US Government, who have over many years, allowed Big Pharma and very Greedy wealthy people to take over and rule our country. And what’s truly sad is that because of this, so many, many innocent people, young and old, have paid dearly! Many with their lives! I’ve always heard that “money talks” but until now, never dreamed just how true that is! Also, I never realized just how ignorant some of our leaders were and still are. Or is Greediness the culprit instead of ignorance?


  1. […] the production of fibers. Humans have been cultivating this fiber-rich variety for more than 8,000 years, and it has been used by a variety of civilizations all around the […]

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