While Hemp has been around for several centuries for various application from health, clothing, rope, fuel oil or paper to name a few, the word Marijuana has only been used in the last 100 years. Hemp and Marijuana are two varieties of the Cannabis plant yet their biological constitution is totally different whether it is the appearance, the chemicals or the effects on those who use it. While Hemp is a fiber crop, Marijuana on the other hand is a drug crop but the two words have been mixed in the last 70 years creating the confusion among the public opinion that would justify its ban. In the last few years, a number of researchers and advocates of Cannabis have been fighting to get this distinction recognized and the benefits of both Hemp and Marijuana finally acknowledge by all, including the medical intelligentsia. In this post, I aim to shed some light on how they managed to make one of the best essential nutrient in the world illegal.
History of Hemp
History of Hemp growing dates back to ancient China and Mesopotamia. It has been cultivated on the earth for over 10000 years, people using it body for fabric, paper or sail cloth while it seeds and flowers provided medical relieve for various health conditions 2500 years BC. Hemp, which is also known today as industrial Hemp is completely different from Marijuana as it THC content is 0.3% or less while Marijuana THC content is above 0.3% with some varieties having up to 30% THC content.
Hemp made its way to North America in the 1600 with the early settlers and was used for the above mentioned applications until the 1930s when Marijuana first made its apparition coming from Mexico with the psychoactive (high THC) effect leading to the Marijuana Tax Act between the 1930s and the 1940s. Although the leaves looked almost the same, no one had ever smoked Hemp while on the contrary, people smoked Marijuana.
In 1937, whether intentionally or not, the act was written in a way that confused Marijuana and Hemp saying both terms identified the same plant and the act passed the US congress becoming a law; Hemp and Marijuana were regulated for the first time in the US. In 1970 the US congress passed a law to make both Marijuana and Hemp illegal. The plant was already illegal in Canada since 1923.
People completely forgot about the Hemp as what people needed was the psychoactive effect of Marijuana, especially during the counter culture period and it is around that time that the first Marijuana legalization movement started in the 1970s.
Marijuana Legalization Movement
In the early legalization movements, people only asked for Marijuana since Hemp was not commercially interesting for the mob due to its lack of psychoactive effects.
In 1985, a book published by Jack Herer with the title The Emperor Wear No Clothes resurrected the word Hemp that had been forgotten for over 50 years. In the book, Herer talked about Hemp and its historical use as fiber crop. Since the book was linked to the Marijuana legalization movement and was only supported by environmentalists and counter culture supporters at the time, no one really took the matter serious. We did not have the means of communication that we have nowadays and people were never made aware of the existence of the Hemp, a sister plant of the Marijuana that had many benefits and would not make people high.
While being demonized in the US and Canada, some European countries had never stopped producing Hemp for various applications and in 1989, the European Economic Community came up with Rules and Regulations to regulate the production of industrial Hemp as well as procedure for testing its THC content.
Noticing that it was being left behind, in 1993, England officially acknowledged that there was difference between Hemp and Marijuana and allowed its farmers to grow it as well. England was soon followed by Canada and the state of Kentucky in the US in the Hemp production in 1994. That is when the Hemp movement really started in the US with many different stakeholders (Researchers, farmers, manufacturers, etc.) looking in the possibilities that Hemp was bringing as an alternative to fiber and noticed that there was actually a major difference between Hemp and Marijuana.
With the above coalition, Hemp was back in the conversation and people started identifying it as another variety of cannabis that did not come with the psychoactive effect that one would get from Marijuana.
In January 1995, Lloyd Case, a Colorado senator tried to pass a bill that would make a distinction between Hemp and Marijuana but his attempt was shot down by the FDA and many believe the FDA was being pushed by the pharmaceutical industry to kill any attempt to legalize Hemp. In October of the same year, a council was formed under the name “North American Industrial Hemp Council” with the objective to separate the issue of Hemp from the issue of Marijuana. In 1996, Lloyd Casey from Colorado got the support of Fred Maslack from Vermont and they were finally successful at passing the “Industrial Hemp” legislation and a strong coalition of diverse organizations is formed to support Hemp industrial grow while at the same time officially opposing to Marijuana legalization.
Current status of Hemp and Marijuana
More and more countries are legalizing the use and grow of Hemp. Many also have legalized Marijuana for medical purpose. I say Marijuana for medical purpose because what people commonly call “Medical Marijuana” is not different from Recreational Marijuana; the word “Medical” added beside “Marijuana” is just to say that recreational Marijuana is used to treat a specific health condition.
Uruguay for instance was the first country in the world to legalize Cannabis in 1993; that means both Marijuana and Hemp are legal in Uruguay. In Canada too since 2018 it is legal to use and grow Cannabis for personal use. Beside Uruguay and Canada, one can freely use Cannabis in Peru, Spain, the Netherlands and Costa Rica. Cannabis has come a long way but there is still an even longer way to go.
Hemp has managed to come back thanks to the fight and perseverance of advocacy groups. It is no secret that “Big Pharma” was behind all the previous loss battle trying to bring to daylight the multiple health benefits hidden in the Cannabis plant. More and more countries are legalizing both Marijuana and Hemp as studies are proving that cannabinoids contained in the Cannabis plant cant very successfully address health conditions that the modern medicine has been struggling with. Let’s all wish a warm welcome back to Cannabis.