Hemp has been grown for millennia in Asia and the Middle East for its durable fiber. In 5000 BCE, the Chinese used hemp's fiber to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and paper. During the Neolithic period, hemp grew and was known across Europe and Asia for its resilient fibers. In late medieval Germany and Italy, hemp began appearing in food and desserts. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Europeans began using hemp fibers for ropes on ships. In fact, Christopher Columbus sailed a ship that had hemp rope and hemp sails. The Spaniards brought hemp to the Western Hemisphere and helped spread its growth to Peru, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, and the colonial United States. Many American presidents have grown hemp including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson.
Up until 1937, hemp was cultivated in the United States for a wide range of commercial and industrial uses. The Marijuana Tax Act was passed in 1937, making hemp, cannabis, and marijuana illegal throughout the United States excluding medical and industrial use. The growing hemp industry was a looming threat to many big businesses because of hemp's wide range of uses. It's argued businessmen such as Andrew Mellon and the DuPont family influenced the passing of the act in order to destroy the hemp industry. At this time, Mellon (US Secretary of Treasury) was the wealthiest man in America and had invested heavily in DuPont's new synthetic fiber nylon. Traditionally, hemp was the go-to resource for textiles, however, the tax made hemp a much less lucrative resource to produce.
We see a resurgence in hemp in the United States during World War II to make uniforms, canvas, an d rope. In 1942, the United States created a short film called "Hemp for Victory" which outlined hemp as a necessary crop to win the war. In 1970, the US government passed the Control Substances Act, making marijuana and hemp illegal. However, the Supreme Court ruled that hemp could still be imported and parts of the plant used for products. After nearly 100 years of prohibition on cultivation, the 2014 Farm Bill allows state departments of agriculture and universities to grow hemp for research or pilot programs. As of 2017, at least 16 states have legalized hemp for commercial purposes.
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