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Hemp for war, but not for peace?

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

Throughout history, hemp has been cultivated to produce durable cloth and rope for U.S. Navy ships, parachutes, and military uniforms. If our government encouraged hemp cultivation for war efforts, why can't we grow it today for food, fiber, fuel and more?

America's oldest Navy Ship launched in 1797, the U.S.S. Constitution, was named by George Washington himself in honor of the Constitution of the United States and required more than 120,000 pounds of hemp fiber to rig the 44-gun ship.

Nearly 55 tons of fiber was needed just for the lines and rigging on the vessel. Even more fiber went into making canvas for the sails and caulking for the wooden hull.

Fun facts: George Washington is known to have been a hemp farmer, and the Constitution of the United States was originally drafted on hemp paper!

Constitution (pictured above) is most famous for her actions during the War of 1812 against the United Kingdom, when she captured numerous merchant ships and defeated five British warships.

Well-known influencers like Henry Clay fought tirelessly for Navy Contracts through the 19th century. Early in his Congressional tenure, he also advocated for tariffs against imported hemp. During the War of 1812, Clay sought to interest the U.S. Navy in buying Kentucky cordage for its ships, and at one point he “planned to rig the entire navy with cordage made of “American Hemp - Kentucky Hemp - Ashland Hemp.” Click here to learn more about Henry Clay's hemp.

Clay was unsuccessful as farmers refused to accept particular harvesting methods required for navy standards. The Navy continuously chose to import the fiber, rather than purchasing from its own country. Click here to learn more about Kentucky manufacturers urging farmers to meet Navy Standards.

Demand for sailcloth and cordage began to decline in the late 1800s as steam ships began to dominate the seas. After the Civil War, Kentucky was the only state with a significant hemp industry until World War I, where it remained the nation’s leading producer of hemp seed.

Hemp production increased again During World War I [1914-1918] when Russian and Italian hemp imports became unavailable. Prices soared, rising from $160 per ton in 1915 to $250 early in 1916, and hemp seed, which was scarce, sold "at the unheard-of-price of twenty dollars a bushel."

"From a position of insignificance," wrote a student of the industry in 1918, "hemp has become within the past few years a crop of national importance - second only to cotton as the greatest fiber crop of the United States." From it came "thread for army shoes, twine for the grain harvest, calking for ships - surely hemp should be reckoned among our foremost war crops." Click here to read more about hemp production increasing during World War I.

In 1936, the Marijuana Tax Act officially outlawed the cultivation of domestic hemp by coupling it was its psychoactive cousin. The high tax placed on producing the crop made it nearly impossible for farmers to grow and make a successful profit. Click here to read more about the Marijuana Tax Act placing high taxes on hemp cultivation.

However, World War II would re-spark the industry once again as the government created an experimental program to grow hemp. “Hemp For Victory” was launched in 1942 and the U.S. contracted farmers to grow hemp exclusively for government use, offering tax incentives. The government also invested capital inputs, from free seeds to government-build mills, so that hemp production would be profitable. Click here to read more about the government launching its hemp for victory campaign.

After the war, hemp production almost ceased to exist. The government suspended the Hemp For Victory campaign and “refeer madness” scared away any investigation into the matter of the crop’s illegal status.

Despite many efforts to “free the seed” through the 20th century, the crop remains federally prohibited. Kentucky is now in its third year of research projects through the hemp pilot program, yet the plant’s outlaw hinders any "real" industry progress.

Misconceptions because of its illegality also continue to hold the industry back, thus steering away potential industry investment. Just last year the military banned hemp lip balm! How is it that the crop that once protected the military from ships to parachutes, is now banned in forms as simple as lip balm? Click here to read more about the U.S. Military refusing to allow hemp-based lip balm on base.

Not to mention, research now shows the medicinal potential of industrial hemp and its cannabinoids for health and wellness. We are doing our veterans a huge disservice by not having these options readily available to try for those who are suffering with disabilities and various ailments as a result of protecting our country. Click here to learn more about CBD from industrial hemp.

We believe veterans should not only have access to hemp products, but also have the right to obtain a job in the industrial hemp industry upon returning from service. Farming, processing, manufacturing and retailing could all be jobs for our veterans and the American people.

The government will let us grow hemp for war, but not for peace? It’s time we finally “free the seed” and start to grow our future with industrial hemp. Hemp has protected our veterans throughout history, and it can continue to do so if we let it! Click here to Take Action today and encourage your legislators to support the Industrial Hemp Farming Act.



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