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Hemp History

In 1606, French Botanist Louis Hebert planted the first hemp crop in North America. By the 1800s the King of England offered free land (and free hemp seed) to immigrants who moved to Canada and grew hemp. Hemp became an essential for new immigrants both as a food and for textile.

South of the border, American farmers were required by law to grow hemp in Virginia and other colonies. Founding Fathers George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams all grew hemp. The Declaration of Independence was even drafted on hemp paper. Notable warships like the U.S.S. Constitution were outfitted with hemp sails and rigging. Hemp played a crucial role in evolving the nation.

Largely due to confusion with other kinds of Cannabis, growing hemp was prohibited in 1937. Around the same time, the magazine Popular Mechanics declared hemp as the next Billion-dollar crop estimating over 25,000 different uses for hemp. Also during this time, Henry Ford developed a vehicle made from hemp plastic that ran on hemp ethanol.

The ban on growing hemp was temporarily lifted in 1942 when the US government launched the “Hemp for Victory” campaign encouraging farmers to grow hemp in support of war efforts. Hundreds of thousands of US hemp acres were harvested for rope, fire hose, sails, parachutes and even uniforms. Then, in 1957 hemp was once again banned.

Decades passed, until 1990s when Manitoba Harvest co-founder Martin Moravcik started advocacy efforts. Martin and another co-founder Alex Chwaiewsky opened a store for hemp textile imports. At the same time, Martin aligned with university students/academics, farmers, and local government to begin organized advocacy for the legalization of hemp. The group, Manitoba Hemp Alliance, successfully secured a government grant to source hemp seed and plant hemp trials.

Around this time fellow co-founder and current CEO Mike Fata aligned with Martin & Alex. In 1998, after years of advocacy work, Industrial Hemp was legalized in Canada and an industry was born! 1998 also marked the founding of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods. Just as Manitoba Harvest was starting to export hemp food products to the United States, misconceptions arose - again.

In 2001, the United States’ Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) launched a campaign to make sales of all hemp products illegal in the US. Hemp companies/manufacturers, together with the Hemp Industries Association (HIA), held strong and took legal action against the DEA.

A three-year legal drama ensued until February 6, 2004 when the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals issued a permanent ruling blocking the DEA regulations and thwarting the unfounded prohibition policy. Victory – hemp, hemp hoorray! Work is still to be done so US farmers can legally grow Industrial Hemp. Hemp products are offered at numerous leading retailers and hemp foods are becoming a part of everyday diets. Yet, it is still illegal for hemp to be grown in the US. For more information and how to get involved, visit www.hemphistoryweek.com or www.votehemp.com.