The relationship between hemp and humans started a very long time ago. Over 10,000 years ago, people in Asia were already using hemp to make fabric. When you consider that human agriculture started around the same time, it is safe to say that hemp is one of the earliest plants to be cultivated by humans.
In the long history of hemp, 3 moments stand out that are of specific importance for the U.S.
Hemp & Columbus
The moment Christopher Columbus set foot ashore on Hispaniola in 1492 marks the beginning of the European colonization of the Americas. With it, the Western hemisphere changed forever. Some choose to view this moment in time as the ‘discovery of the New World’, while others see it as the start of the occupation of native lands and the oppression of its peoples. Irrespective of which viewpoint you take, a fact is that the journey Columbus would have been a lot more challenging, if not impossible without hemp.
All sails on the three ships in Columbus’s fleet were made of hemp, as well as all ropes. These ropes had important functions, such as supporting the sails and the masts and preventing them from collapsing in challenging weather conditions. Without having alternatives that could provide similar strength and durability, crossing the Atlantic Ocean would have been highly problematic or perhaps not even possible. Imagine the implications it would have for our U.S. and world history if hemp hadn’t been available to Columbus and other explorers of his time!
Hemp & World War II
During World War II, hemp played an important role in the war effort. When the Japanese cut-off US hemp supplies from the Philippines, the government needed to move quickly to ensure continued availability of the crop. Only a few years earlier, U.S. hemp production was made effectively illegal, and with that domestic hemp production halted. Therefore, the government formed the War Hemp Industries, and in 1942 the USDA released an educational video and literature to encourage US farmers to start growing hemp for the war. Within a few years, more than 150,000 acres of hemp were cultivated as a part of the USDA’s “Hemp for Victory” program:
Hemp was used by the US army for:
- An average of 34,000ft of marine rigging for each U.S. battle ship.
- Lubrication of aircraft engines with hemp seed oil.
- The parachute webbing for all paratroopers.
- Elements of uniforms and the stitching of army boots that millions of soldiers wore.
Although hemp was clearly not the determining factor in the outcome of the war, it certainly supported the effectiveness and success of the U.S. troops of achieving an allied victory.
Hemp & the Future
After U.S. hemp farming officially became illegal again in 1970, people and the government are now increasingly realizing hemp’s potential for our health, economy, and environment:
- Hemp seed is high in various nutrients, and hemp derived CBD oil can help relieve different health issues.
- U.S. manufacturers currently import over $650 million worth of raw hemp while domestic farmers miss out on this profitable opportunity to grow hemp.
- Half of the topsoil on the planet has been lost in the last 150 years. We need to shift to regenerative agricultural practices, and hemp is an excellent crop can help improve the health of the soil. Hemp can also be used for carbon sequestration.
Progress is being made. With the introduction of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill, hemp farming for research purposes is now legal in 33 states. This year, 23,343 acres of hemp were grown across the U.S. and a new version of the Industrial Hemp Farming Act was introduced.
Perhaps now more than ever before, hemp can make a difference. It can provide solutions to many of the big challenges we are facing in our modern time. Hemp has not only influenced the course of our history, but it has great potential to have a positive impact on the future of the U.S. Hopefully in the new year, hemp can once again be grown on US soil without restrictions. Let’s take action to ensure a future with hemp!