“Hemp/industrial hemp” and “marijuana” are two distinct varieties of the same plant species. “Hemp” is a fiber crop. “Marijuana” is a drug crop. However, these definitions have become confused in the last 60 years. Recently, a movement has begun to distinguish the terms again. It is important to understand the history of usage of these terms in order to eliminate the confusion.
1600-1930s Hemp’s Long History in North America
The word “hemp” has been in the English language for over 800 years. The word “marijuana” is only 100 years old.
From the first settling of North America until the 1930s, “hemp” was the most common term for Cannabis sativa fiber crops. “Marijuana” was never used to describe hemp fiber crops, which were grown for canvas, rope, fuel oil, and paper. “Hemp” fiber crops were historically low THC and completely non-psychoactive.
1930s-1940s Marijuana tax Act confuses “Hemp” and “Marijuana”
In the 1930s, the psychoactive (high-THC) variety of cannabis sativa, imported from Mexico, became common in the southern U.S. It was called “marijuana”, a word popularized through the “Reefer Madness” campaign, to distinguish it from the “hemp” fiber crops (which no one ever smoked).
In 1937, the passage of the Marijuana tax Act hopelessly confused the terms “hemp” and “marijuana”. For the first time, Congress defined these distinct varieties of Cannabis sativa as being the same. What had been commonly known as “hemp” was now “marijuana”.
1950s “Hemp” Crops Become Extinct
In 1957, the last “hemp” fiber crop was harvested in the U.S. Because low-THC Cannabis sativa fiber crops were now extinct, the word “hemp” dropped out of use and was forgotten.
1960s “Marijuana” Legalization Movement Begins
In the 1960s, the psychoactive variety of cannabis sativa (“marijuana”) became popular among the counter-culture. The movement to legalize “marijuana” in the 1960s and 1970s did not use the term “hemp” to describe “marijuana”.
1985 “Hemp”/ “Marijuana” Movement Begins
In 1985, the word “hemp” re-surfaced in the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. This book uncovered information that had been lost for almost 40 years about “hemp’s” historical uses as a fiber crop. The book also touted “hemp” as a solution to modern environmental problems.
Because The Emperor was targeted at a “marijuana” movement and since it was not widely known that low-THC varieties of hemp existed in Europe and Asia, it was believed that “marijuana” must be legalized to allow industrial uses of “hemp”. And because it was the environmentalists and the counter-culture that began promoting hemp as an alternative fiber crop, they were not taken seriously.
1989 European Farmers Grow “Hemp”
In Europe, some countries (like France and Spain) had never stopped producing “hemp”. In 1989, the European Economic Community developed rules to govern “hemp” production that applied to all its member countries. The EEC defined registered seed varieties for low THC “hemp” and methods for testing “hemp” for THC content.
1993-1994 England and Canada Grow “Hemp”
In 1993, England officially recognized the difference between “hemp” and “marijuana”, to make its farmers competitive in the EEC. In 1994, Canada, seeing competition from Europe, allowed “hemp” production.
1994 Kentucky Appoints “Hemp” Task Force
In November of 1994, the Governor of Kentucky, seeing competition from Canada and Europe, appointed a Task Force to study the commercial possibilities of “hemp” in his state.
1994-1995 “Hemp/Industrial Hemp” Movement Begins in U.S.
For the first time, farmers, manufacturers, processors, and agricultural researchers in North America began to take a serious look at “hemp” as an agricultural crop and alternative fiber. As well, the “hemp” environmentalists within the “marijuana” movement see that registered seed varieties exist to distinguish “hemp” from “marijuana”.
This diverse coalition begins using the word “industrial hemp” (or simply “hemp”) to refer exclusively to low-THC non-psychoactive varieties of Cannabis sativa. The goal of the “industrial hemp” movement is to allow legitimate production of “hemp” fiber crops and to explore the environmental benefits of “hemp” as an alternative fiber, pulp, and oil source.
Jan. 1995 Colorado Senator Introduces “Hemp “ Legislation
In January 1995, Senator Lloyd Casey (D-Northglenn), made Colorado the first state to attempt to define “hemp/industrial hemp” as distinct form “marijuana” when he introduced the Hemp Production Act. Unfortunately, this bill was killed in Committee due to objections from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
Oct. 1995 North American Industrial Hemp Council Formed
In October 1995, the steering committee of the North American Industrial Hemp Council made “industrial hemp” an entirely distinct issue, separate from the legalization of “marijuana”.
Jan. 1996 Colorado and Vermont Introduce “Hemp” Legislation
Legislators in two states introduced “industrial hemp” legislation, Sen. Lloyd Casey (D) from Colorado and Rep. Fred Maslack (R) from Vermont.
Jan. 1996 Support for “Hemp” Grows
A strong coalition of diverse organizations now supports “Industrial hemp”, including:
American Farm Bureau federation (4.6 million member)
Colorado Farm Bureau
Colorado Department of Agriculture
Colorado State Grange
Kentucky Farm Bureau
Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative
Wisconsin Agribusiness Council
Wisconsin Department of Agriculture
International Paper Company
Bolton Emerson Americas
Colorado Environmental Coalition
Oregon Natural Resources Council
HIA (Hemp Industries Association)
North American Industrial Hemp Council
Most, if not all of these groups have specifically stated that they are opposed to the legalization of marijuana. They realize the difference between “hemp/industrial hemp” and “marijuana” and that “hemp/industrial hemp” can be grown safely without affecting “marijuana” laws, production, or use.
Today: Making Progress...
25 of 53 state hemp-related bills introduced since 1995 have passed and overall, 14 states have successfully passed hemp-related legislation. In 2002, hemp bills have been introduced in seven states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia. The CA, HI and WV bills have passed, the NM and VT bills have died in committee, and the AZ and WI bills have been held until 2003.