Hemp has a long and complicated history in the U.S.
CBD Information, CBD Oil, Rational

The History of Hemp in the U.S.

The hemp industry is booming across the United States. Hemp products like CBD oil, cream, gummies, and capsules are in high demand, with an estimated 14% American adults using CBD products. (That’s over 29 million people!)

Though the emergence of CBD products is a newer trend, hemp has a long and complicated history in this country. Let’s take a look at the history of hemp in the U.S.—when it was first grown, what its uses have been, and the legal battles that have plagued it for decades.


The first written record we have of hemp in the U.S. is from 1632, when the Virginia Assembly mandated that all farmers grow flax and hemp. However, hemp was grown long before that by Native Americans, who used the crop to make clothing, cord, paper, and even food.

Hemp was a major export for America in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Much of what was grown was exported overseas to Britain, where it was used for a wide variety of products: shoes, clothing, paper, cord, rigging, sails, and much more. The hemp plant fibers are exceptionally strong, and this made it an incredibly versatile crop.


The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 made cotton the preferred material for textiles, as harvesting hemp by hand is extremely labor intensive. Hemp remained a top crop, however, due in part to laws requiring the Navy to purchase hemp from domestic farmers and the eventual invention of machinery to reduce manual labor costs.

Hemp peaked as an industry in the first part of the 20th century, before shifting attitudes and laws began to cause its decline.


There are three major factors that caused the decline to hemp. The first factor was the rise in synthetic fibers like plastic and nylon. Though lower in quality (and, as we now know, much worse for the environment), these products were far cheaper to produce and import than hemp.

The second major factor that caused hemp to decline was the demonization of marijuana and passage of the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937. This bill dealt a serious blow to hemp. Because it lumped hemp in with its cousin, cannabis, it became regulated by the Department of Revenue, which added a large tax on the sale of hemp. Even though this bill did not outlaw the production of hemp, it made it much more difficult and expensive for farmers to grow it. As a natural reaction, its production severely waned.

Hemp experienced a brief resurgence during WWII, when the U.S. government reversed its stance and once again urged farmers to grow the crop—even offering a subsidy for them to do so. The reason? Japan had cut off imports of hemp from the Philippines, and it was needed to produce items like rope, cordage, and cloth. Unfortunately, as soon as the war ended, the government once again stopped its support of hemp, leaving farmers in the lurch.

The third and final blow to the hemp industry came in 1970 with the start of the War on Drugs. The Controlled Substances Act was passed, regulating all cannabis and classifying it as a Schedule 1 “controlled substance.” The bill used the same definition of cannabis from the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which included the hemp plant.


After thirty years, the first reprieve for hemp came with a 2004 Court of Appeals ruling, which stated that the DEA could not regulate certain parts of the hemp plant under the Controlled Substances Act—sterilized hemp seed, hemp fiber, and hemp seed oil. This ruling allowed these to be imported and used in products.

Another win came with the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill. This bill allowed hemp to be grown for pilot and research programs by state departments of agriculture or universities.

The 2018 Farm Bill really allowed the hemp industry to begin booming again. It did what should have been done back in the 1930s—it defined hemp as separate from marijuana. This removed it from the Controlled Substances Act, allowing it to be produced commercially in the U.S. In addition, it made hemp federally legal nationwide (states still have their own regulations and laws independent from this), which opened the door for CBD products like our Full-Spectrum Hemp Extract.


We know—that was a lot of information! That’s why we created a handy hemp timeline graphic for you. Check it out below!

Hemp has been a part of the U.S.'s history since its very beginningsRational Hemp is regulatory-compliant and contains trace levels of THC under 0.3%. While we know of no instance where a drug test came back positive after using our Hemp Extract, we cannot guarantee this result. Speak to a physician before using CBD if you are pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription medications.

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