“Hemp is of first necessity to the wealth & protection of the country.”
It’s undeniable that early American’s were huge hemp supporters.This included George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and even good ol’ Betsy Ross made her first flag out of the plant’s fibers. In the Virginia settlements colonists were encouraged to cultivate industrial hemp and were even able to pay taxes with shares from their harvest. Hemp was a vital part of the American economy as well as the American armed forces.
In the 1840’s the U.S Navy had a crucial need for rope, which required the high-quality production of fiber strains that were too expensive to import. The federal government knew hemp rope could compete with the standard fibers, so they began hemp cultivation contests. Doug Fine gives us good illustration of this expansion in the book I had mentioned before, Hemp Bound. “Missionaries sent back Chinese hemp, farmers blended it with the more coarse European strains we already had, and the result was the finest hemp in the world…It’s generally called Kentucky hemp, but there were many named varieties with specific properties that were well known and marketed for more than half a century”.These government-run breeding programs continued until the 1930’s, where we will see is when everything changes.
There are different theories as to the true intention of the War on Drugs. Whether it be racial, economic, or even tied in to a huge wonderful conspiracy theory; my purpose is to provide facts, and I prefer not to dictate opinions on the matter. The facts are that there were societal and political movements, involving a 1936 film ‘Refer Madness’, that began to build stigma against the cannabis plant for the first time. By 1937,the federal government passed the Marihuana Tax Act which placed industrial hemp under the umbrella of ‘marihuana’, and effectively prevented farmers from legally cultivating the stuff.
Ironic enough, a year after cannabis became illegal an infamous magazine of the time Popular Mechanics called hemp “the billion dollar crop”. Talk about confused; this is a clear example that the American market has always been well ahead of its legislature.
Once WW2 came upon us, the U.S. Navy once again found themselves desperate for rope seeing as the Japanese had cut-off our usual supply. Our government already knew what the solution was, so in 1942 the USDA promptly released an inspiring pro-hemp propaganda video called Hemp for Victory. I’ve provided the link to watch it on Youtube, and here is a picture I found on the internet of a “special tax stamp” that was provided to farmers at the time.
Over 150,000 acres of industrial hemp would be cultivated by this project. Going into the twentieth century America begins to dominate as a global force. However, we can clearly see it struggles to understand the importance of this plant as an industrial source when competing with such vast markets. The farmers wanted the cultivation of hemp, the people needed these hemp products, yet this product would be stripped from the marketplace entirely. The legality of the issue will continue to be tossed around as we enter into the second round of prohibition later in the 19th century.