Hemp: A Legal History

If you haven’t already noticed, cannabis is making a comeback. There are now thirty- three states where medical marijuana is legal. Eleven of those are legal recreationally as well. And in 2018, hemp was legalized nationwide.

Still, there’s some confusion about all this. How does CBD fit into the picture? And if you’re in a state like North Carolina where marijuana is still illegal, how are there companies like Liquefy Cannabis existing?

The Different Types of Cannabis

The first thing you’ll need to understand is the difference between cannabis, marijuana, and hemp.

Scientifically, marijuana and hemp are both referred to as Cannabis sativa. Cannabis is the genus name and is part of the Cannabacea family. Sativa is the species name and literally translates to “cultivated.” [reference].

Cannabis sativa originates from Eurasia and had light green, narrow leaves that were low in THC. There are also Cannabis indica and Cannabis ruderalis. Cannabis indica was found in India and had broad, dark green leaves with a higher THC percentage. Cannabis ruderalis refers to a feral type of cannabis.

Since cannabis is humanity’s oldest crop, with evidence dating it back to 8,000 BC, it has undergone intense artificial selection. This makes nomenclature very misleading. For example, marijuana strains are classified as ‘indica’ or ‘sativa,’ but this represents appearance and effects, not genetics [reference] [reference].

Types of plants

Hemp and marijuana are genetic cousins, and have been classified with the same scientific names because both have undergone intense cultivation. For modern use, they are distinguished by their chemical makeup and legal definitions.

Chemically, the ratio between THC and CBD defines their difference. A high ratio of CBD classifies the plant as a fiber-type (or hemp), so long as it is less than 1% THC. One percent is considered the threshold for the plant having psychoactive effects, thus classifying it as a drug-type (or marijuana).

Legal definitions stem from chemical differences. Marijuana, with it’s upwards of 1% THC, is still federally restricted as a schedule 1 drug, though this is complicated by state legalization. Hemp is cleared as legal as long as it’s dry net weight contains 0.3% or less THC.

Since Liquefy Cannabis extracts CBD from legally compliant hemp, we can still call ourselves a cannabis company and have no affiliation with marijuana.

The History of Hemp Prohibition

Hemp is not psychoactive, and has countless industrial uses. It was cultivated by our ancestors, including early American settlers. President Washington and Jefferson grew it, and the Declaration of Independence was signed on hemp paper. So why was it outlawed for over eighty years?

The answer to cannabis prohibition is unfortunately rooted in cultural discrimination.

In the early 1900s, marijuana was not a big deal. The Narcotics Tax Act of 1914 had left it unclassified, and until the 1930s, the US Government was hesitant to ban marijuana because its therapeutic properties were still unknown, and hemp was a profitable industrial commodity [reference]. But then the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) happened, causing many to immigrate to the US. Mexicans used “marijuana” medicinally and recreationally, and it soon gained more popularity in the US. This was also the time when jazz music amongst African Americans was becoming increasingly popular.

In 1930, the Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established, and Harry Arslinger was appointed as first commissioner. He launched campaigns against marijuana, and can be quoted for blatant racism. He blamed “marijuana” as a direct causation for an evolving ethnic culture in the US. Begin the era of Reefer Madness. In 1937, Arslinger succeeded in passing the marijuana tax act that regulated the importation, cultivation, possession, and distribution of marijuana, effectively prohibiting it as a recreational drug.

tax stamp

In 1937 the US government passed the marihuana tax act that placed regulation on marijjuana cultivation, possession, and distribution, thus starting prohibition

This, however, had effects on the hemp market. Research and economic activity slowed substantially until the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War Two. Hemp had previously been imported from the Philippines, but Japanese control of the islands stopped this. The USDA urged and subsidized American farmers to grow hemp for the war efforts, which they did, until the war ended, and hemp once again faded from the scene [reference].

Hemp remained obsolete – yet distinct – from marijuana until the Controlled Substance Act of 1970. Marijuana was declared in broad sense as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, the worst classification, akin to heroin and cocaine. The National Commission on Marijuana & Drug Abuse advocated for the de-emphasis of marijuana as a problem in their 1970 report Marijuana: A Signal of Misunderstanding. These were ignored by President Nixon.

Cannabis remained profitable for the war on drugs until the 2010s, when prohibition began breaking apart, state by state.

The 2018 Farm Bill

In December of 2018, the Agricultural Improvement Act, or Farm Bill, made cultivating, transporting, and selling hemp and hemp-derived products legal in all 50 states. It also removed hemp and hemp products from their Schedule 1 drug status [reference]. Hemp has been cultivated for research purposes under a strict pilot program since 2014, but the 2018 Bill opened the market up more expansively. It’s still not an easy process, farmers must register with their state agricultural departments, governors, and chief law enforcement to submit their plans to the USDA for approval [reference].

Cannabis prohibition is coming to an end. The crop that grew alongside human evolution is finally being welcomed back into our lives, giving people the opportunity to get back in touch with nature. Although, if you do live in a state where marijuana is illegal, we recommend keeping your receipt for you hemp flower close by. It looks and smells just like its cousin.

By Willow Groskreutz

  • January 17, 2020 @ 4:59 pm
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