Hemp, the less famous and non-psychoactive variety of the Cannabis Sativa plant originated in Central Asia. The Cannabis family has both “male” and “female” plants, and hemp has the misfortune of being the ugly boyfriend to the very intoxicating Cannabis Sativa plant. Still, ancient people quickly found the plant to have a multitude of usefulness for hemp: a nutrient-dense seed, a durable fabric and soil-enriching cover crop, the plant became a beloved favourite amongst sailors and Bohemians for centuries.
Hemp and Cannabis has been around for a long time, evolving alongside humans. A pollen study published in May 2019 has evidence that Cannabis evolved about 28 million years ago on the eastern Tibetan Plateau. This Cannabis pollen was hard to detect because it is almost identical to the same hops you enjoy in your beer and can still be found growing wild across Central Asia . It was around 4000 years ago that Chinese farmers began to grow it for oil and for fiber to make rope, clothing, and paper.
Locally in Tibet, Cannabis became considered sacred and is used for meditation in Tantric Buddhism. From there, it found its way on the Silk Road where it journeyed to Europe, then to Africa in the 15th century. African slaves bring it to Brazil and from there it reaches North America, where hemp fibre was used to eventually produce American dollar bills right up until 1914.
So how did hemp go from being featured on and in the American 1914 $10 bill to being internationally illegal?
In 1937, Canada made farming of all cannabis illegal. That same year, the United States restricted cultivation of cannabis and hemp could only be grown with US Drug Enforcement Agency permission. Needless to say The Drug Enforcement Agency didn’t grant very much permission, which had the unintended side effect of stunting medical research on Cannabis. In 1970, a new ‘Controlled Substances Act’ officially outlawed cannabis and didn’t differentiate between industrial versus recreational varieties of the plant, therefore keeping hemp under tight restriction. The outlawing of cannabis was born from fear of the intoxicating effects of recreational use, however because hemp contains very low THC levels, it can be used for its health benefits without any psychoactive effects. So for decades hemp was needlessly subjected to criminalisation based on a misguided understanding, which was probably aided by the fact that hemp and cannabis plants look similar.
Canada loosened regulations in 1998, while it took until 2014 for the US Agricultural Act to permit commercial cultivation of hemp. The American hemp industry is expected to grow to $26 billion by 2023, up from only 1 billion in 2020.China never banned its cultivation and nowadays still holds the title as largest producer of hemp in the world with a 1.5 billion dollar worth in 2020.
With restrictions slowly relaxing globally, even if you’re nan isn’t ready for a full Cannabis Sativa experience, she can probably get behind some hemp seeds in her oatmeal to help her lower her cholesterol, which makes hemp a useful cash that appeals to a large variety of healthy people. For 2020, you can expect to see hemp making its way out of the law books and onto pharmacy and grocery store shelves across New Zealand.