Before beginning this piece, I must note, this piece is not intended to explain what federal cannabis legislation is, how it’s legal or illegal, or why some states are embarrassing it. This is a thought piece that’s been what most would call a wonky out of mind idea I’ve been having lately on why our country hasn’t followed suit and legalized or reschedule cannabis as medicine in any meaningful way at the federal level. We’ve simply created a quite frankly sad semantics sub-section of cannabis called hemp.
A bit of cannabis history dating back to 1937 and the era most would refer to as when corporations really began to be considered people.
- Early Regulation and the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937:
- In the early 20th century, states began to pass laws regulating the sale and use of cannabis, often targeting immigrant communities where cannabis consumption was more common.
- In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act was passed at the federal level, effectively criminalizing the possession and sale of cannabis. While the act did not outright ban cannabis, it imposed strict regulations and hefty taxes, making it nearly impossible to legally obtain or distribute cannabis.
- The regulation of cannabis in the United States began at the state level in the early 20th century. States like California and Texas were among the first to introduce laws targeting cannabis use, particularly in response to concerns about its association with Mexican immigrants.
- These early laws were often driven by racial prejudice and xenophobia, with anti-cannabis campaigns portraying the drug as a threat to society and linking its use to violence and criminal behavior.
- Reefer Madness and Public Perception:
- The 1930s and 1940s saw a significant shift in public perception of cannabis, largely influenced by sensationalist media campaigns and government propaganda.
- Films like "Reefer Madness" portrayed cannabis as a dangerous drug that led to moral decay, violence, and insanity. These exaggerated portrayals, though widely discredited today, contributed to the stigmatization of cannabis use.
- Anti-drug organizations and law enforcement agencies also played a role in shaping public opinion, highlighting the perceived dangers of cannabis and advocating for stricter regulations and enforcement.
- By the mid-20th century, cannabis had become firmly entrenched in the public consciousness as a dangerous drug with no legitimate uses, setting the stage for its classification as a Schedule I controlled substance in the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
Due to 30+ years of fear-mongering and corporate interests we saw a plant go from the countries primary commodity crop to over-taxed and driven into the ground as a commodity. A slew of propaganda shortly followed. Leading up to the war on drugs when the marijuana tax act was stricken from application and no longer accessible. The true era of prohibition begins. In the long haul of things we’re talking our government has 50+ years worth of fear mongering, demonizing, and writing control acts for cannabis and other plant derived drugs (referring to the coca plant).
In 2014 we for some unknown reason have Kentucky, Colorado, and Oregon fight to get pilot Hemp - “cannabis sativa l with a 0.3% Delta-9 THC content on a dry weight basis” - programs into the 2014 farm bill. 4 years later we have it put into national law with the 2018 farm bill. The history of hemp in America is deeply intertwined with the country's development, from its early colonial days to its modern resurgence as a versatile and sustainable crop.
- Colonial Era (1600s-1700s):
- Hemp has been cultivated in North America since the early colonial period, with the first hemp crops planted in Jamestown, Virginia, in the early 1600s.
- Hemp cultivation was actively encouraged by the British Crown, which saw the plant as a valuable resource for producing rope, sails, and other essential maritime supplies for its naval fleet.
- Hemp became a staple crop in many American colonies, with laws in place in some regions requiring farmers to grow hemp as a form of agricultural duty.
- 19th Century:
- Hemp production continued to expand throughout the 19th century, with Kentucky emerging as a major hemp-producing state known for its high-quality hemp.
- Hemp was used for a wide range of products, including textiles, paper, rope, and oil. It was considered one of the most versatile and valuable crops of its time.
- 20th Century:
- The early 20th century saw a decline in hemp production in the United States, partly due to the rise of alternative fibers such as cotton and synthetic materials.
- The Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 imposed heavy taxes and regulations on hemp production, effectively discouraging its cultivation. This act also had a significant impact on the hemp industry, as it was grouped with marijuana under the same regulatory framework.
- World War II:
- Hemp experienced a brief resurgence during World War II when the U.S. government launched a "Hemp for Victory" campaign to encourage farmers to grow hemp for the war effort.
- Hemp was used to produce essential materials such as rope, canvas, and other supplies needed for the war. The government even produced a promotional film titled "Hemp for Victory" to promote hemp cultivation.
- Decline and Prohibition:
- After World War II, hemp production once again declined rapidly due to changes in agricultural policies, the availability of cheaper alternatives, and the association of hemp with marijuana.
- The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 classified hemp as a Schedule I controlled substance, effectively banning its cultivation and production in the United States.
- Modern Resurgence:
- In recent years, there has been a renewed interest in hemp due to its potential as a sustainable crop with a wide range of applications, including textiles, building materials, biofuels, and CBD products.
- The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, removed hemp from the list of controlled substances and legalized its cultivation and production at the federal level, leading to a resurgence of hemp farming across the country.
Now that our “hemp” history has been covered. If you know anything about cannabis botany, and cannabinoid biosynthesis. You realized right off the bat that this “modern resurgence” meant cannabis in all forms was legal as long as your product maintained a less than 0.3% delta-9 thc content on a dry weight basis. If we’re talking flower material, it has to maintain a 0.3% total THC content 30 days prior to harvest. After harvest delta-9 content is dictated by your states laws.
Getting to my “wonky” idea, what if the federal government with 50+ years of fear mongering and demonizing a plant wrote this definition intentionally. See you gotta remember the University of Mississippi in 2018 release it’s book: “Emerging Topics in Analytical Chemistry: The Chemistry of Cannabis” on it’s 50 year research celebration. So did the government know what they were doing when writing the definition of hemp? Do we really need more research on cannabis as a medicine? Lastly was the definition of hemp a way for the federal government to legalize cannabis without admitting its mistake that was the drug war? It’s something to think about.
The more and more I examine the history of cannabis in this country in relation to prohibition. The more I’m convinced that the definition of hemp is our governments scape-goat. It’s there way of saying we admit no fault in what our predecessors and even some of our current government officials have done to this plant. Not only to the plant but to a large portion of the population and scientific communities. It wasn’t that long ago that ease of access to researching potential medical applications of cannabis, mdma, psylocibin, and LSD was way easier. We’re talking the 1960-1970’s.
The Controlled Substances Act of 1970:
- In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act classified cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, placing it in the most restrictive category alongside drugs like heroin (opiates) and LSD.
- This classification deemed cannabis to have a high potential for abuse, no accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision, effectively solidifying its illegal status at the federal level.
I’m of the isle in the industry that we’re not going to see our federal government do anything besides what they’ve already done with the 2018 hemp section of the agricultural improvement act specifically regarding cannabinoids. We will eventually see some separation of drug type cannabis and textile/food type cannabis which would most likely come with rescheduling to schedule 3 under the CSA. Beyond rescheduling, to me they’re going to leave it up to the states as they have since pre-csa (1970) and 1996 with the initial legalization of medical marijuana in Arizona and California. They’ll handle the distribution of cannabis in the same way they do alcohol or tobacoo. Let the state governments figure it out, because they (the feds) have bigger agendas and issues to worry about.
- State-Level Legalization Efforts:
- Despite federal prohibition, states begun to challenge cannabis laws in the late 20th century. California was the first to operate with legalized medical cannabis in 1996, followed by a wave of other states.
- In the 21st century, the momentum for cannabis legalization continued to grow, with states legalizing recreational use. These state-level initiatives conflicted with federal law, creating a legal gray area.
In conclusion, the history of cannabis prohibition in the United States is a complex narrative shaped by a variety of social, political, and economic factors. While cannabis has a long history of medicinal and recreational use worldwide, its path to prohibition in the U.S. and greater world is relatively recent, dating back to the early 20th century. Today, hemp (cannabis sativa l containing less than 0.3% delta-9 THC) is once again recognized for its economic and environmental benefits, and its cultivation is steadily increasing as new uses and markets for hemp-derived products continue to emerge. We also see a resurgence in the medical applications of cannabis at the state levels. It's an exciting time to be apart of the cannabis industries.