George Washington pushed for the growth of hemp as it was a cash crop commonly used to make rope and fabric. In May 1765 he noted in his diary about the sowing of seeds each day until mid-April. Then he recounts the harvest in October which he grew 27 bushels that year.
It is sometimes supposed that an excerpt from Washington’s diary, which reads “Began to seperate [sic] the Male from the Female hemp at Do [sic]—rather too late” is evidence that he was trying to grow female plants for the THC found in the flowers. However, the editorial remark accompanying the diary states that “This may arise from their [the male] being coarser, and the stalks larger” In subsequent days, he describes soaking the hemp (to make the fibers usable) and harvesting the seeds, suggesting that he was growing hemp for industrial purposes, not recreational.
George Washington also imported the Indian Hemp plant from Asia, which was used for fiber and, by some growers, for intoxicating resin production. In a letter to William Pearce who managed the plants for him Washington says, “What was done with the Indian Hemp plant from last summer? It ought, all of it, to be sown again; that not only a stock of seed sufficient for my own purposes might have been raised, but to have disseminated seed to others; as it is more valuable than common hemp.”
Presidents known to have farmed hemp for alternative purposes include Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor, and Franklin Pierce.
Historically, hemp production had made up a significant portion of antebellum Kentucky’s economy. Before the American Civil War, many slaves worked on plantations producing hemp.
In 1937, the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 was passed in the United States, levying a tax on anyone who dealt commercially in cannabis, hemp, or marijuana.
While the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 had just been signed into law, the United States Department of Agriculture lifted the tax on hemp cultivation during WW II. Before WW II, the U.S. Navy used Jute and Manila Hemp from the Philipines and Indonesia for the cortage on their ships. During the war, Japan cut off those supply lines. America was forced to turn inward and revitalize the cultivation of Hemp on U.S. soils.
Hemp was used extensively by the United States during World War II to make uniforms, canvas, and rope. Much of the hemp used was cultivated in Kentucky and the Midwest. During World War II, the U.S. produced a short 1942 film, Hemp for Victory, promoting hemp as a necessary crop to win the war. U.S. farmers participated in the campaign to increase U.S. hemp production to 36,000 acres in 1942. This increase amounted to more than 20 times the production in 1941 before the war effort.
As of December 2018, Hemp is federally legal to grow again in the United States. The government passed the Hemp Farming Act of 2018, part of the 2018 Farm Bill signed by President Donald Trump on 20 December 2018. This bill changed hemp from a controlled substance to an agricultural commodity, legalizing hemp federally, which made it easier for farmers to get production licenses, get loans to grow hemp, and allowed them to get federal crop insurance. Some states still consider it illegal to grow hemp, but 41 states have begun the process to make hemp legal to grow at the state level, as of 2019.
The process to legalize hemp cultivation began in 2009, when Oregon began approving licenses for industrial hemp. Then, in 2013, after the legalization of marijuana, several farmers in Colorado planted and harvested several acres of hemp, bringing in the first hemp crop in the United States in over half a century. After that, the federal government created a Hemp Farming Pilot Program as a part of the Agricultural Act of 2014. This program allowed institutions of higher education and state agricultural departments to begin growing hemp without the consent of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). Hemp production in Kentucky, formerly the United States’ leading producer, resumed in 2014. Hemp production in North Carolina resumed in 2017, and in Washington State the same year. By the end of 2017, at least 34 U.S. states had industrial hemp programs. In 2018, New York began taking strides in industrial hemp production, along with hemp research pilot programs at Cornell University, Binghamton University and SUNY Morrisville.
As of 2015 the hemp industry estimated that annual sales of hemp products were around US$600 million annually; hemp seeds have been the major force driving this growth.
Despite this progress, hemp businesses in the US have had difficulties expanding as they have faced challenges in traditional marketing and sales approaches. According to a case study done by Forbes, hemp businesses and startups have had difficulty marketing and selling non-psychoactive hemp products, as some online advertising platforms and financial institutions do not distinguish between hemp and marijuana.