Overview of the History of Cannabis Hemp

by Jack Herer

Overview of the History of Cannabis Hemp

For the Purpose of Clarity in this Book: Explanations or documentations marked with an asterisk (*) are listed at the end of the related paragraph(s). For brevity, other sources for facts, anecdotes, histories, studies, etc., are cited in the body of the text or included in the appendices. The facts cited herein are generally verifiable in the Encyclopedia Britannica, which was printed primarily on paper produced with cannabis hemp for over 150 years. However, any encyclopedia (no matter how old) or good dictionary will do for general verification purposes.

Cannabis Sativa L.

Also known as: Hemp, cannabis hemp, Indian (India) hemp, true hemp, muggles, weed, pot, marijuana, reefer, grass, ganja, bhang, “the kind,” dagga, herb, etc., all names for exactly the same plant!

What’s in a Name? (U.S. Geography)

HEMPstead, Long Island; HEMPstead County, Arkansas; HEMPstead, Texas; HEMPhill, North Carolina; HEMPfield, Pennsylvania, among others, were named after cannabis growing regions, or after family names derived from hemp growing.

American Historical Notes

In 1619, America’s first marijuana law was enacted at Jamestown Colony, Virginia, “ordering” all farmers to “make tryal of” (grow) Indian hempseed. More mandatory (must-grow) hemp cultivation laws were enacted in Massachusetts in 1631, in Connecticut in 1632 and in the Chesapeake Colonies into the mid-1700s.

Even in England, the much-sought-after prize of full British citizenship was bestowed by a decree of the crown on foreigners who would grow cannabis, and fines were often levied against those who refused.

Cannabis hemp was legal tender (money) in most of the Americas from 1631 until the early 1800s. Why? To encourage American farmers to grow more.

You could pay your taxes with cannabis hemp throughout America for over 200 years.

You could even be jailed in America for not growing cannabis during several periods of shortage, e.g., in Virginia between 1763 and 1767. (Herndon, G.M., Hemp in Colonial Virginia, 1963; The Chesapeake Colonies, 1954; L.A.Times, August 12, 1981; et al.)

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew cannabis on their plantations. Jefferson, while envoy to France, went to great expense – and even considerable risk to himself and his secret agents – to procure particularly good hempseeds smuggled illegally into Turkey from China. The Chinese Mandarins (political rulers) so valued their hempseed that they made its exportation a capital offense.

The United States Census of 1850 counted 8,327 hemp “plantations”* (minimum 2,000-acre farm) growing cannabis hemp for cloth, canvas and even the cordage used for baling cotton. Most of these plantations were located in the South or in the border states, primarily because of the cheap slave labor available prior to 1865 for the labor-intensive hemp industry.

(U.S. Census, 1850; Allen, James Lane, The Reign of Law, A Tale of the Kentucky Hemp Fields, MacMillan Co., NY, 1900; Roffman, Roger, Ph.D. Marijuana as Medicine, Mendrone Books, WA, 1982.)

*This figure does not include the tens of thousands of smaller farms growing cannabis, nor the hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of family hemp patches in America; nor does it take into account that well into this century 80 percent of America’s hemp consumption for 200 years still had to be imported from Russia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland, etc.

Benjamin Franklin started one of America’s first paper mills with cannabis. This allowed America to have a free colonial press without having to beg or justify the need for paper and books from England.

In addition, various marijuana and hashish extracts were the first, second or third mostprescribed medicines in the United States from 1842 until the 1890s. It’s medicinal use continued legally through the 1930s for humans and figured even more prominently in American and world veterinary medicines during this time.

Cannabis extract medicines were produced by Eli Lilly, Parke-Davis, Tildens, Brothers Smith (Smith Brothers), Squibb and many other American and European companies and apothecaries. During all the time there was not one reported death from cannabis extract medicines, and virtually no abuse or mental disorders reported, except for first-time or novice users occasionally becoming disoriented or overly introverted.

(Mikuriya, Tod, M.D., Marijuana Medical Papers, Medi-Comp Press, CA; Cohen, Sidney & Stillman, Richard, Therapeutic Potential of Marijuana, Plenum Press, Ny, 1976.)

World Historical Notes

“The earliest known woven fabric was apparently of hemp, which began to be worked in the eight millennium (8,000 – 7,000 B.C.)” (The Columbia History of the World, 1981)

The body of literature (i.e., archaeology, anthropology, philology, economy, history) pertaining to hemp is in general agreement that, at the very least:

From more than 1,000 years before the time of Christ until 1883 A.D., cannabis hemp – indeed, marijuana – was our planet’s largest agricultural crop and most important industry, involving thousands of products and enterprises; producing the overall majority of Earth’s fiber, fabric, lighting oil, paper, incense and medicines. In addition, it was a primary source of essential food oil and protein for humans and animals.

According to virtually every anthropologist and university in the world, marijuana was also used in most of our religions and cults as one of the seven or so most widely used mood-, mind-, or pain-altering drugs when taken as psychotropic, psychedelic (mind manifesting or -expanding) sacraments.

Almost without exception, these sacred (drug) experiences inspired our superstitions, amulets, talismans, religions, prayers, and language codes. (See chapter 10 on “Religions and Magic.”)

(Wasson, R., Gordon, Soma, Divine Mushroom of Immortality; Allegro, J.M., Sacred Mushrooms & the Cross, Doubleday, NY, 1969; Pliny; Josephus; Herodotus; Dead Sea Scrolls; Gnostic Gospels; the Bible; Ginsberg Legends Kaballah, c. 1860; Paracelsus; British Museum; Budge; Ency. Britannica,, “Pharmacological Cults;” Schultes & Wasson, Plants of the Gods, Research of R.E. Schultes, Harvard Botanical Dept.; Wm EmBoden, Cal State U., Northridge; et al.)

Great Wars were Fought to Ensure the Availability of Hemp

For example, the primary reason for the War of 1812 (fought by America against Great Britain) was access to Russian cannabis hemp. Russian hemp was also the principal reason that Napoleon (our 1812 ally) and his “Continental Systems” allies invaded Russia in 1812. (See Chapter 12, “The (Hemp) War of 1812 and Napolean Invades Russia.”)

In 1942, after the Japanese invasion of the Philippines cut off the supply of Manila (Abaca) hemp, the U.S. Government distributed 400,000 pounds of cannabis seeds to American farmers from Wisconsin to Kentucky, who produced 42,000 tons of hemp fiber annually until 1946 when the war ended.

Why Has Cannabis Hemp/Marijuana Been So Important in History?

Because cannabis hemp is, overall, the strongest, most-durable, longest-lasting natural soft-fiber on the planet. Its leaves and flower tops (marijuana) were – depending on the culture – the first, second or third most important and most-used medicines for two-thirds of the world’s people for at least 3,000 years, until the turn of the century.

Botanically, hemp is member of the most advanced plant family on Earth. It is a dioecious (having male, female and sometimes hermaphroditic – male and female on the same plant), woody, herbaceous annual that uses the sun more efficiently than virtually any other plant on our planet, reaching a robust 12 to 20 feet or more in one short growing season. It can be grown in virtually any climate or soil condition on Earth, even marginal ones.

Hemp is, by far, Earth’s premier, renewable natural resource. This is why hemp is so very important.

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