The state of Kentucky has been a focus of media lately, regarding a conflict that involved the DEA and their seizure of a shipment of hemp seeds that the state had attempted to import on May 13th. This issue, which has since been resolved, is the most recent occurrence in historical difficulties between the United States government and the hemp industry that have existed since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act.
The US government did not always oppose the production of the plant. In the early 18th century, the opposite was true. Farmers could face a potential jail sentence if they did not grow hemp on their property. At this point in the history of America, the plant was also considered legal tender, and by 1850 there were over 8,000 plantations for the crop in the US alone. This expanse in the hemp industry led to Henry Ford’s decision to develop a process that was able to extract the components necessary for diesel fuel from the oils of the plant. Realizing that its use as a biofuel was dangerous to competing industries in the fuel and textile industries, these industries funded a smear campaign against the hemp industry, building an association between the crop and marijuana through Reefer Madness and similar films.
A federal tax on marijuana was signed into law in 1937, which led to a decline in sales and production of the plant fibers. This law, known as the Marijuana Tax Act, effectively prevented farmers from growing hemp for any purposes. This continued until the Pearl Harbor attacks, which brought trade with the Philippines to a halt. Because the Philippines served as the main source for the US to receive imports of the crop from, the United States government decided to temporarily change their view on the plant, and funded a film that encouraged its production in support of the war effort. Production of the plant was shut down after the war ended, but there was still a distinct line drawn between marijuana and hemp until the late 1960s.
The 1960s law, which made a distinction between the marijuana plant and the closely related, non-psychoactive crop nonexistent, made both of these plants a schedule I substance, though it does not have the same psychoactive properties as marijuana. This is the issue that caused the confusion which led to Kentucky incident. While many states have allowed hemp production to proceed, there is no federal law that has reversed this ruling that makes the plant schedule I substance, meaning that any importation of seeds, which are still nationally considered a Schedule I substance, could technically be ruled as an offense by DEA standards.
Hemp has had a long and complicated history within the United States, and government policies regarding the plant reflect this fact. Kentucky has a particularly strong relation with the crop, as the state became the major contributor to production of hemp in the US after nationwide production decreased following the Civil War. The study that the seeds were imported for is reportedly being done to investigate the potential of using the plant as a cash crop to boost the economy in the state of Kentucky
By Joseph Chisarick