Just 20 years ago, hemp activists believed that the US was on the cusp of re-legalizing industrial hemp. The education campaign that was necessary to enlighten lawmakers and the public preceded the Internet, so the effort that was required was Herculean. The facts were there for everyone to see. How could they be ignored?
But the modern hemp movement stalled. Although scores of companies had gone into business, without domestic hemp growing on American farmland, the costs of doing business were prohibitively high. Additionally, few politicians were willing to spend political capital supporting legal hemp. Over time, the forces of Prohibition had smeared industrial hemp sufficiently enough to make it seem like crack. And no politician wanted to look soft on drugs.
But in order to believe this propaganda, one had to ignore history. Hemp was one of colonial America’s first agriculture crops. In fact, Connecticut farmers were required to grow the crop. Hemp flourished in the United States. Northern Plains states like Nebraska harvested acres of hemp crops annually. But no state outgrew Kentucky.
Kentucky's first hemp crop was grown in 1775, and went on to become the nation's leading hemp-producing state in the 1800s. Peak production reached 40,000 tons in 1850. After the Civil War, US hemp production declined. Still, almost all of the nation's hemp was grown in Kentucky. Federal legislation passed in 1938 outlawed production of marihuana, including hemp. But World War II necessitated new fiber crops for the war effort and hemp was sown again, briefly.
Today, hemp agriculture is prohibited in America. It may be an agricultural crop, but only the DEA, a federal law enforcement agency, holds the power to grant farmers permits to grow.
But this year, Kentucky will grow hemp again for the first time in decades. The Farm Bill, which was signed by President Obama on Feb. 7, allows state agriculture departments to grow hemp for research. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer and Attorney General Jack Conway have agreed to jointly pursue a federal waiver from the DEA "for the expansion of industrial hemp production for commercial purposes.” Federal border patrol entities will be contacted on behalf of the Commonwealth of Kentucky in order to legally import seeds.
It’s time for hemp to resume its rightful place in American history and agriculture. Check out these historic photos of Kentucky hemp farming.
This photo from the 1930s shows an ancient tractor and workers ready to cut down this hemp field.
Laborers begin gathering the harvest into shocks.
The Kentucky Hemp Museum owns this pastoral photograph of a hemp field populated by freshly erected shocks.
In the Spring, the sturdy hemp stalks , which have been left to ret over the winter, are broken up in a decorticator in order to access the hemp fiber.
The decorticators of old were primitive, but effective tools.
One can only imagination the new status that modern hemp crops will enjoy once they're sown and harvested with modern technology.
In Canada, expansive crops of hemp are already being harvested.
The thin hemp stalks provide sturdy fiber for a myriad of uses.
A Canada hemp field, midway through harvest.
How soon will we see acres of hemp growing in American soil once again?