Hemp has been valued throughout this country’s history as an important raw material. Until the late 1800s,
almost all of our cloth was made from hemp, and virtually all of our paper was made from hemp rags. From
1631 to the early 1800s, hemp was such a valued commodity that it was considered legal tender (money).
Regions of Kentucky and Wisconsin were among the largest hemp producers.
Hemp production seemed destined to increase dramatically in the 1930s, when an invention called the
decorticator began getting wide attention. The decorticator strips the hemp fiber from the stalk. This had been
the most labor-intensive and expensive part of producing hemp.12 The decorticator was to hemp what the
cotton gin was to cotton. The invention prompted a 1937 Popular Mechanics magazine to call hemp the “New
Billion Dollar Crop” and Mechanical Engineering magazine to call it “The Most Desirable Crop That Can Be
However, the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act dealt a fatal blow to the promising hemp fiber industry. The Act
established a prohibitive tax on hemp manufacturers and distributors as well as on hemp transactions. It was
modeled after a similar tax that was enacted to prohibit machine guns. The transfer tax of $1.00/ounce
effectively ended all hemp production in the United States by making commerce in hemp prohibitively
Restrictions on hemp production were eased briefly in the United States during World War II when Japan
invaded the Philippines, cutting off the supply of abaca (Manila hemp). The U.S. Navy desperately needed a
domestic supply of hemp to provide the lines and rigging for its fleet. The U.S. Department of Agriculture
encouraged farmers to produce hemp for the war effort by distributing a film called “Hemp for Victory!”.
After World War II, the hemp industry declined as the federal government again began to restrict hemp
production. Farmers continued to produce hemp on a limited scale until the 1950s. However, legislation
eventually came to treat industrial hemp crops as marijuana (drug) crops, and hemp fiber production was no
Currently, hemp production is treated as a felony in the United States because it is assumed that all hemp crops
will produce marijuana. With the advent of industrial hemp and low-THC seed varieties, this is no longer true.
Hemp can now be grown as a profitable fiber crop in the United States with absolutely no danger of increasing
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