History of Hemp in The US


Hemp, one of the world’s oldest crops, has had a tumultuous history over more than 10,000 years of cultivation. In the United States, its production – once an agricultural staple – has faced harsh controversy but also continuing innovation. Colorado remains one of the forerunners of the hemp and cannabis revolution.


1600-1890’s –The production of domestic hemp is encouraged, and the medicinal properties of cannabis are explored.

The production of hemp was encouraged by the American government in order to create rope, sails, and clothing. A common staple in colonial America, it was highly regarded for its durability.

In the early 1830s, the discovery of the medical benefits of cannabis became more widely applied by large pharmaceutical companies until the turn of the 20thcentury.

Early 1900’s – Companies, threatened by hemp’s popularity, aided the demonization of marijuana.

New machinery was developed to make hemp processing easier and more efficient. Companies like the petrochemical giant, DuPont, created chemicals that were used in the processing of paper. Paper mill owners also saw hemp paper threatening the wood-pulp paper industry. Seeing hemp as competition, these industries encouraged legislation to restrict hemp production.

At the same time, immigrants introduced American culture to marijuana as a recreational drug, and the government used this to perpetuate racism, proposing to outlaw marijuana. Due to a lack of education of the difference between hemp and marijuana, hemp was unjustly labelled as dangerous.


1937 – Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act amid growing concern of the use of mind-altering substances.

After a shocking national propaganda campaign against marijuana use, the US Congress passed the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively criminalizing marijuana. The legislation restricted marijuana possession to individuals who paid a tax for certain authorized uses.

The 1940s – However, less than a decade later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture created a program, Hemp for Victory, to encourage hemp production during a brief lift of the Marijuana Tax Act in WWII.

In 1944, the New York Academy of Medicine issued a report that declared that marijuana use did not cause unacceptable behaviors. During World War II, the U.S. Department of Agriculture launched its "Hemp for Victory" program that encouraged farmers to plant hemp for marine supplies for the military.


1950’s – Stricter sentencing laws are enacted for drug offences.

The enactment of laws like the Boggs Act of 1952 and the Narcotics Control Act of 1956 set mandatory minimum sentences for drug-related offences.

1970 – Congress repealed many of the mandatory penalties for drug-related offenses.

The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act eliminated the mandatory sentences for possession of small amounts by setting marijuana apart from other narcotics. Many acknowledged that the minimum sentencing laws of the 1950s had not helped to regulate drug culture.

1986 – President Reagan signed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which again instituted mandatory sentences for drug crimes. 

1989 – In a national speech, President George Bush declares a new “War on Drugs” in America.

1996 – California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996 legalized medical marijuana in the state.

California voters passed the proposition, allowing for medicinal marijuana use for patients with serious diseases such as AIDS or cancer.

Early 2000’s – Eight states voted to legalize the use of medical marijuana.

Colorado, one of the eight states that voted in the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, allows for medicinal marijuana use for certain conditions that are considered debilitating.

2012 – Recreational marijuana is legalized by amendments in a few states including Colorado.

Amendment 64 in Colorado passes, and it becomes one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. The amendment restricts access by age and requires government identification.

2013 – Proposition AA proposed recreational marijuana sales tax in Colorado.

The 25 percent tax passes, and it is expected to generate $70 million annually with the first $40 million contributing to the school system fund and the rest for marijuana industry regulation.

On January 1 of the following year, Colorado businesses begin selling recreational marijuana.

2014 - 2018 – Many states pass laws to legalize medical and recreational marijuana

Alaska, Oregon, Washington D.C., California, Nevada, Michigan and Massachusetts legalize recreational marijuana. Minnesota, New York, Arkansas, Florida, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia legalize medical marijuana.