Prior to 1928...
Hemp was one of the first plants cultivated in China from the time of the world’s most primitive societies. In fact, it grew abundantly throughout Asia, Europe and America.
Hemp spanned the Silk Road and rigged transatlantic ships in the 1500s. From the Qin Dynasty to the Ottoman Empire to the United States, hemp was there, unregulated.
America’s Founding Fathers knew its importance in the American economy, and it was commonly used in household elixirs and cough medicines. Through the early 1900s, it was Kentucky’s major cash crop, but it was labor intensive and peak production correlated with war.
In 1928 German Prof. Walther Straub bred Indian hemp in such “high quality that it can be used to replace the foreign drug for medicinal purposes.” This was the first development of what is now considered marijuana.
At the time, heroin addiction was skyrocketing, as a side effect of WWI. In fear of a newly discovered drug entering markets, the League of Nations decided to be proactive. They initiated a framework to manage cannabis production, alongside opium and cocaine.
By 1932 the U.S. Bureau of Narcotics released the Uniform Narcotics Act with an optional adoption clause to regulate cannabis. California was the first states to adopt the cannabis clause.
By 1936 attention turned away from cannabis hemp as an industrial product and towards Prof. Straub’s high quality Indian hemp, famously coined as marijuana.
Yellow Journalism smeared marijuana as a dangerous drug that caused men to rape and murder.
Reefer Madness was born.
Regulators decided cannabis needed even tighter controls. But because hemp “grew like dandelions,” regulation was difficult. So instead of prohibition, they taxed all cannabis seeds under the Marijuana Tax Act of 1937.
Soon after the U.S. was drawn into WWII, fiber imports were cut off, so the U.S. was forced to revamp hemp production. Regulations and taxes were lifted from hemp and the USDA created a “Hemp for Victory” Campaign.
Farmers grew for war efforts, supplying the military with essential supplies. But the program also allowed government officials to commandeer all U.S. seed stock.
After WWII ended, the government reissued the tax act, and conveniently possessed all U.S. hemp seeds.
Throughout the 1950s, the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs researched and monitored the medical use of cannabis, but scientists had trouble isolating the plant’s two major compounds, cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9 tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC).
In 1961, the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, “obliged Parties to place cannabis under strict controls to prevent its abuse.”
In 1968, based on recommendations from the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the United Nations Economic and Social Council agreed to, “eradicate the abuse of and illicit traffic in cannabis.”
By 1970 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency regulated hemp as a Schedule I Narcotic, classified as dangerous as heroin.
In 1990 Tasmania, Australia legalized industrial hemp cultivation. It created a ripple effect across industrialized nations. By 1998 industrial hemp cultivation was permitted in Australia, the United Kingdom, Germany and Canada.
Asian and Eastern European nations never banned hemp cultivation.
Americans advocated for legalization, but the DEA refused to permit production.
In 2001, three inventors filed a patent for cannabinoids as an antioxidant and neuroprotectant. The patent was issued in 2003. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services currently maintains ownership of the patent.
“The cannabinoids are found to have particular application as neuroprotectants, for example in…stroke and trauma, or in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and HIV dementia.”
After nearly eighty years of prohibition and regulatory constraints, President Obama signed the 2014 Farm Bill. The Bill opened the production of hemp for research purposes and at pilot scales.
Universities and State Departments of Agriculture are now permitted to research hemp under their state’s “Hemp Pilot Program.” Some states permit farmers and processors to conduct research on the Department’s behalf.