Cannabis use can be documented as far back as 2700BC(1) in ancient Chinese writings. These writings tell us that cannabis was used by the Chinese for a variety of uses. These included fiber, oil, and as a medicine. By 450bc history tells us that cannabis was being cultivated in the mid-east region. From Afghanistan to Egypt hemp was cultivated for its fiber, medical and recreational use. It appears that Cannabis was first introduced into Europe around 500AD. It is known that cannabis was in wide cultivation in Europe by the 16th century. It was cultivated for it’s fiber and seed. The seed was cooked with barley and other grains and eaten.
In 1537 Dioscorides called the plant Cannabis Sativa, the scientific name that stands to this day as the plant’s true name. He notes it’s use in “the stoutest cords” and also its medicinal properties(2)
Cannabis was introduced into Chile about 1545(3) where it was grown for fiber. Cannabis was introduced into New England soon after Puritan Immigrants settled, noting that it grew “twice so high”(4)
In Virginia the early legislature passed many acts to promote the cannabis industry. Before the revolution cannabis seems to have flourished in the area around Lancaster PA.
Cannabis was first grown in Kentucky in 1775(5). In 1802 two extensive Ropewalks were built in Lexington Kentucky to make rope from the cannabis being grown in the area. There was also announced a new machine that could break “eight thousand weight of hemp per day”(6), a huge quantity and step forward for the cannabis fiber industry.
Cannabis spread to other states including Missouri by 1835, Illinois by 1875, Nebraska by 1887, California by 1912(7) Minnesota by 1880(8), Wisconsin and Iowa by the early 1900’s.
The industrial cultivation was stalled by Federal legislation in 1937 bu the imposition of a heavy tax on producers known as the Marijuana Tax Act.
By 1940 the US Government reduced the tax so that production could take place during WWII. During WWII the industry flourished in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and Kentucky where farmers were encouraged to grow it for the war. The Film “Hemp for Victory” produced by the USDA explained to farmers the need for hemp for the war effort.
After WWII with the heavy tax back in place the commercial cultivation declined until the last documented crop was grown at the University of Minnesota in 1968 (9).
1 – Yearbook of the Department of Agriculture, L Dewey, 1913 pg 296
2- Dioscorides. Medica Materia, li bri sex, 1537, page 147
3- USDA Bureau of Plant Industry, Bulletin #153, Husbands, Jose D, 1909, page 42
4- Yearbook of the USDA Dewey, 1913 pg 291
5- A study of the past, the present and future of the hemp industry in Kentucky, Moore, Brent, 1905, page 16
6- Travels to the West of the Alleghenies, Michaux, Andre, 1805 page 152
7- Yearbook of the USDA, L Dewey, 1913 page 293
8- Hemp in Minnesota during the War Time Emergency, Schoenrock, Ruth, 1966, page 15
9 – Robinson, Bob, Dr. Hemp Experimenter at UofM 1960-1968 199