The politics of hemp in the USA

Currently in the USA,  it is currently illegal to grow hemp, though ironically the United States is one of the largest importers of hemp products. Many states are working on legislation to allow the production of industrial hemp and are making progress. In the 2012 elections, it JUST became legal to grow hemp in Colorado and Washington.  We are on a new horizon now and it will be interesting to see if states legalizing hemp will prevail over Federal regulation against it.  It will also be interesting to see how long or short it may take to build the infrastructure to grow, process, and manufacture finished hemp products. 

The US is the only industrialized nation that does not allow hemp production. All hemp fabric must therefore be imported.

Hemp was revered with widespread use until the 1930s, when a smear campaign was created by a few powerful individuals in competing industries, the media, and government. They had personal and financial interests in destroying the future of hemp, and they successfully banned it from being grown in the USA by creating and pushing through laws which are still in place to this day.

The hemp plant was forced out of favor during the late 1930s and demonized in the public mind due to its direct competition with other materials.

During this time:

  • The DuPont company began to develop chemicals that enabled the mass production of trees processed into paper.
  • William Randolph Hearst, the owner of the largest newspaper chain in the United States, backed by Mellon Bank, invested significant capital in timberland and wood paper mills to produce his newsprint using
  • DuPont's chemicals. DuPont also developed nylon fiber as a direct competitor to hemp in the textile and cordage industries.
  • Pharmaceutical companies began producing synthetic drugs to replace natural medicines including hemp extract.
  • Propaganda around cannabis was fueled by intense racism towards Mexicans, with many of the newspapers at the time, including Hearst-owned papers, publishing hundreds of lurid stories about people raping and murdering while under the influence of marijuana (the Mexican slang term for cannabis.) The stories rarely mentioned the hemp that people used everyday as rope, paper, medicine, and more.

For a complete history of hemp, refer to San Diego Earth Times article:

The politics of hemp is part of the politics of corporate America, and a reflection that the powerful few, still tend the interests of the many.

Although hemp is superior to most other industrial products in its wide variety of uses and unmatched environmental sustainability, big industry still makes money producing products that all too often are not sustainable and therefore are created at the expense of our earth.

Hemp's competing industries:

  • Paper
  • Cotton
  • Synthetic Fabrics
  • Plastics
  • Oil
  • Petrochemicals
  • Logging
  • Wood Mills
  • Pharmaceuticals

Profits over Planet:

Banning hemp cultivation in the USA effectively removed from the marketplace a plant that is extremely sustainable and environmentally friendly. Laws took away the option for individual farmers to grow and profit from an inexpensive, sustainable, and easily cultivated crop and instead upheld the growth of other non-sustainable products such as nylon and paper made from wood.

The history of this ban speaks to the movement in the USA and other western countries towards caring more about profits than anything else and putting the "bottom line" before small farmers who have done so much to feed America.

The ban of growing hemp in the USA appears to have nothing to do with what was, or is, best for the American people or the planet. This ban was instead based primarily upon a model that would allow only a few companies to prosper and grow.

A brief history of Hemp

Hemp has been cultivated since ancient times. The earliest known woven fabric was made of hemp and dates back to the eighth millennium (8,000-7,000) BC.

Hemp has played a significant role in the evolution of humanity across much of the planet because of its variety of uses.

Throughout time it has been used for money and other paper products, ropes, cloth, sails, food, fuel, natural medicine, cement, and paint.

Some facts about hemp (from "The History and Benefits of hemp," San Diego Earth Times 1999):

  • The oldest printed paper in existence is a 100 percent hemp – Chinese text dated to 770 AD.
  • Hemp seeds have provided a combustible fuel oil throughout human history.
  • Henry Ford himself manufactured the body of an automobile from hemp-based plastic in 1941. The plastic was much lighter than steel and could withstand ten times the impact without denting. The car was even fueled by clean-burning hemp-based ethanol fuel.
  • Christopher Columbus' ships were fully rigged in hemp.
  • The USS Constitution, "Old Ironsides," was outfitted with over 40 tons of hemp rigging.
  • There is evidence in ancient Egyptian archaeological sites of hemp-based concrete.
  • Hemp was the first plant known to have been domestically cultivated.

Hemp can be made to be stronger and lighter than metal, the fibers from the plant are longer and stronger then any other plant-based fiber, making it extremely durable. It has been used for thousands of years because it is simple and fast to grow, can be cultivated in areas that are difficult to grow other plants, and does not require pesticides or fertilizer.

In fact it is a crop that has been shown to actually support the earth it is planted in, which has made it ideal as a rotation crop. When hemp is harvested its roots and leaves are left behind, thus giving essential nutrients to the soil.

In Februrary 1937, Popular Mechanics predicted hemp would be the world's first "Billion Dollar Crop" that would support thousands of jobs and provide a vast array of consumer products from dynamite to plastics.

So why, you might ask is the hemp plant still such a controversy in the USA? Why would it actually be illegal to grow a plant that offers so much benefit with so little down side? Why would an environmentlally damaging crop, such as corn be supported by the US government when the hemp crop is banned?

Corn depletes the soil, requires much water to grow, and requires significant pesticides and fertilizer, whereas hemp is inarguably sustainable. For that matter why is hemp the enemy while plastic and other synthetic materials are actually finanically supported by the US government?


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US History of Hemp

  • America’s founding fathers grew hemp. Presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp and went to great lengths to get the best possible seeds.


  • The first American flag was made of hemp fabric.


  • The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted on hemp paper.


  • Between the years 1500-1750 Americans were legally bound to grow hemp.


  • The 1850 United States Census counted 8,327 hemp “plantations” (minimum 2,000-acre farms) growing cannabis hemp for cloth, canvas, and the cordage used for baling cotton.


  • Hemp became prohibited to grow in 1937.


  • 1942-1945, during World War II, the Armed Forces were faced with a shortage of fiber for their supplies. The federal government subsidized hemp and US farmers grew about one million acres of hemp as part of that program.


  • After the war, the US soldiers were ordered to destroy the million acres of hemp fields planted for their benefit.


Learning about the history of the ban on hemp cultivation in the USA is like coming upon crossroads with two very different potentials.

One road is toward the future we now are living in, where non-sustainable practices have polluted and depleted our waters and land. A future where cycnisism, fear, and hopelessness are common.

The other "less trodden" road, is one of hope and community awareness…where the cultivation of truely sustainable products, supported by individual and national choices to care deeply, might lead to a very different future for all of us.

Luckily we're each still individually and collectively creating history. Our choices CAN make a difference right now!

Which road will you choose?