The hemp plant has a rich and varied history that spans thousands of years and numerous civilizations. Celebrated for its versatility, hemp has been utilized in a multitude of ways, from ancient textiles and food sources to modern industrial applications and medicinal products. July, recognized as National Hemp Month, provides an opportune moment to learn more about the fascinating journey of hemp. This article explores the historical significance of hemp, its spread across different regions, its decline and resurgence in the United States, and its current status in the CBD industry.


Hemp is one of the oldest cultivated crops in human history, with evidence of its use dating back over 10,000 years. Originating in Central Asia, hemp was integral to the development of ancient civilizations. Archaeological discoveries suggest that hemp was used by early humans for a variety of purposes, including making rope, textiles, and paper. In ancient China, hemp was a staple crop used for its fiber and seeds, and it played a crucial role in the economy and daily life. The ancient Egyptians also utilized hemp for making durable fabrics and medicinal purposes, while in India, hemp was considered sacred and used in religious rituals as well as for its therapeutic properties.

Our farmer, Rollin, in the hemp field in Neillsville, WI.


Hemp made its way to the Americas with European explorers and settlers. In the early 1600s, hemp seeds were brought to the New World by colonists who recognized the plant's value for producing essential goods. Hemp quickly became a crucial crop in the American colonies, valued for its strong fibers which were used to produce ropes, sails, and clothing. The British government even mandated that American colonists grow hemp to ensure a steady supply of this vital resource for their naval fleet. By the 1700s, hemp farming was widespread across the colonies, and it was considered a staple of the colonial economy.

During the colonial period, hemp was more than just a useful crop; it was a cornerstone of economic and daily life. The versatility of hemp made it indispensable for various applications, from agricultural uses to everyday household items. Farmers grew hemp extensively, not only to meet the demands of the British Empire but also to support local industries. Hemp fibers were used to produce clothing, shoes, and bags, while its seeds were utilized for food and oil. The plant's importance was such that in some colonies, farmers were legally required to grow hemp. Additionally, the founding fathers of the United States, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, were known advocates and cultivators of hemp, underscoring its significance in early American society. Washington grew hemp at his Mount Vernon estate, and Jefferson is known to have promoted the use of hemp over tobacco due to its economic benefits.


Despite its widespread use and economic importance, hemp cultivation began to decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Several factors contributed to this decline, including the rise of the cotton industry, which offered a cheaper alternative for textile production, and the development of synthetic fibers.

The most significant blow to hemp came with the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 in the United States, which imposed strict regulations and heavy taxes on the cultivation of all cannabis varieties, including hemp. This act effectively ended the commercial cultivation of hemp in the U.S., as it became economically unfeasible for farmers to comply with the new regulations. This legislation, coupled with the negative stigma surrounding cannabis, caused hemp cultivation to wane significantly, relegating it to a forgotten crop for many decades.

The Controlled Substances Act of 1970 further solidified the prohibition of hemp by classifying all cannabis varieties, including hemp, as Schedule I controlled substances. This classification equated hemp with its psychoactive cousin, marijuana, despite the significant differences in their chemical compositions and uses. This also hindered research and development opportunities and contributed to the negative perception of hemp. Consequently, hemp cultivation in the U.S. virtually disappeared for several decades, stifling its potential as an agricultural and industrial resource.


The late 20th and early 21st centuries saw a renewed interest in hemp, driven by growing awareness of its economic and environmental benefits. Advocacy for hemp's legalization gained momentum, emphasizing its distinction from marijuana due to its low THC content. This effort culminated in a significant legislative shift with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. This bill redefined hemp as an agricultural commodity and removed it from the list of controlled substances, provided it contained less than 0.3% THC. The legalization of hemp opened the door for widespread cultivation and research, sparking a burgeoning industry centered around hemp-derived products, particularly CBD (cannabidiol). 

CBD, a non-psychoactive compound found in hemp, gained popularity for its potential therapeutic benefits, leading to a surge in demand for CBD-infused products ranging from oils and tinctures to edibles and skincare items. The 2018 Farm Bill marked a turning point, transforming hemp from a prohibited plant to a valuable agricultural resource with diverse applications.

Our hemp farm in Neilsville, WI.

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The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill was a landmark event for the hemp industry, particularly for the production and commercialization of CBD. By federally legalizing the cultivation of hemp and its derivatives, the bill unleashed a wave of innovation and investment in the hemp and CBD markets. Farmers across the United States began to cultivate hemp for the first time in decades, tapping into a lucrative new crop. The legal clarity provided by the Farm Bill also spurred research into hemp and CBD, leading to advancements in cultivation techniques and product development.

The CBD industry experienced exponential growth as a result. CBD products, celebrated for their potential health benefits, became more available in various forms such as oils, capsules, edibles, and topicals. Retailers ranging from small boutiques to large chain stores began stocking CBD products, making them accessible to a broad audience. Moreover, the legislation fostered a regulatory framework that aimed to ensure the safety and quality of hemp-derived CBD products, promoting consumer confidence. The 2018 Farm Bill not only revitalized the hemp industry but also positioned CBD as a more well known wellness product.

The Bottom Line

The journey of hemp, from an ancient crop to a modern agricultural powerhouse, reflects its remarkable resilience and versatility. Despite facing significant challenges, including criminalization and stigmatization, hemp has reemerged as a valuable resource in today's economy. National Hemp Month in July serves as a reminder of hemp's historical importance and its evolving role in various industries, especially the CBD market. The legalization of hemp through the 2018 Farm Bill has opened new avenues for research, innovation, and economic growth, ensuring that hemp will continue to be a vital part of our agricultural and industrial landscape. As we celebrate National Hemp Month, we acknowledge the enduring legacy of hemp and its promising future.


  1. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2018). hemp | Description & Uses. In Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. Rupasinghe, H. P. V., Davis, A., Kumar, S. K., Murray, B., & Zheljazkov, V. D. (2020). Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa subsp. sativa) as an Emerging Source for Value-Added Functional Food Ingredients and Nutraceuticals. Molecules, 25(18), 4078.
  3. SS-AGR-457/AG458: Industrial Hemp in the United States: Definition and History. (n.d.).

July 01, 2024 — Griffin Lynch

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