How have we forgotten how important hemp was to America?

Posted on April 15 2016

America was built on hemp, from the very first puritans who sailed on the mayflower, using hemp fibre in their rigging and sails. Hemp was so important for the start of the American nation that colonists were forced by the British crown to grow it. This ensured the ability of the British Navy to rule the world was unchallenged by material constraints. 

55 tons of hemp was used in the rigging alone for the USS constitution. Ship captains of the time were instructed to spread hemp seed wherever they travelled, to ensure that a source of fibre was available wherever a ship sailed in the world.

Indeed, the fact that so much hemp grown in the US was exported outside the country was one of the reasons for the American Revolution. American patriots were tired of the fruits of their labor leaving the country. Of course, not all hemp left America, notably, the first draft of the declaration of independence was penned on hemp paper. 

So why today is it that hemp is at best a side product? Well, part of it comes from the fact that with the advent of iron sailing ships, there was little need for hemp fibre used in the sails and rigging of these ships, that no longer had sails. 

It is also partially due to a propaganda effort against the hemp industry by the logging industry in the 30s that lobbied for the banning of growing hemp, which luckily for prohibitionists coincided with the first episode of reefer madness that led to the criminalisation of marijuana. 

However: “(The Marijuana Tax Act) didn’t really affect us as growers, other than we had to pay a small tax and sign a paper stating that we wouldn’t use the plant as a drug,” explains hemp farmer Junior Prange. “What really killed the hemp industry in the 1950s was the availability of cheap synthetic fibers.”

Today, hemp is finding a new place in the world as a food supplement and oil, and the fibre is still used all over the world. With the restrictions on growing the cannabis plant easing every year, we could see a new resurgence in the use of hemp in the US, something that was so critical to its birth as a nation. 



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