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Why We Started At The Soil: The History of Hemp 

baby cannabis—the larger round leaves are the cotyledons that fall off as it grows, and you can see the first adult leaves emerging


Editor’s Note

As Meristem Farms grows and enters new lives, we care about staying rooted, remembering why we started it all and why we wake up every day feeling hopeful and excited to create new products. Our love for the industry goes beyond just cannabis — it’s about the impact, the history, and the changes that mindful products can bring into our society.

Want to learn more about the history of hemp, and other key points that will help you understand the cannabis industry? Sign up for our newsletter!

 

 

Key Takeaways

  • Hemp offers many benefits, which is why it’s become more popular in recent years.
  • Hemp has a rich, yet complicated history in the United States.
  • The War on Drugs in the 70s created severe racial disparity.
  • CBD has gained popularity, but there’s a lot of work to be done to dispel some of the outrageous myths associated with hemp, the cannabis industries, and the racial issues that have stemmed from it.

 

 

Get Educated

 

In Vermont, where Meristem Farms was born, it has been legal to grow industrialized hemp* since 2013. If you tracked the progression of permits and acres dedicated to hemp farming across the state, it would paint a picture of volatility and hard work in an industry striving to establish itself.


During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the significance of the CBD (or hemp) market has only been amplified by the trauma and stress, along with our country’s long overdue racial reckoning. 


Even with all these struggles, hemp-derived CBD products continue to find their way into natural food stores, bodegas and CBD shops becoming a medicinal staple for those seeking to remedy pain, inflammation, stress and sleeplessness.  


For that — and many other reasons — we created Meristem Farms.


A Long History of Hemp


It’s impossible to discuss why we do what we do without diving into farming practices that support an ethical and sustainable future for our landscapes and communities. Let’s start with a bit of history about the plant itself.

Hemp can be traced back to 8000 BCE in regions of Asia. Hemp spread across civilizations as vast as Asia, Europe, Africa, and later South America. It wasn’t until 1606 that hemp was introduced in North America. In 1700, the crop garnered enough respect whereby some colonies were required to farm hemp and historical documents were penned on its paper, including drafts of The Declaration of Independence.


Hemp continued to be grown in American fields until the 1930s but it was The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 that promulgated the major decline of the plant with heavy taxes, many believe deliberately imposed by powerful lobbyists, to allow for an increase in market share of other industries such as plastics and nylon controlled by the powerful elite. The Act was reversed to support war efforts during World War II and the Hemp for Victory campaign prompted a mini resurgence with farmers throughout the Midwest and South.  


Hemp was eventually banned for good in 1970 with the passage of the Controlled Substances Act. Hemp was included as a Schedule 1 drug, grouping a crop alongside drugs like heroin and LSD.  As Natalie Papillion describes, “this designation claimed that marijuana—which first appeared in the United States Pharmacopeia in 1850 and had been widely utilized as a patent medicine during the 19th and early 20th centuries—had “absolutely no medical value” and represented “the highest potential for abuse”. It should be noted that no medical experts were involved in this categorization.  


The Effect of America’s War on Drugs


The 70s also unleashed America’s ‘war on drugs’ that created deep and disproportionate outcomes for communities of color. In 2018, Black men were incarcerated 5.8 times the rate of white men, and black women were incarcerated at a rate of 1.8 times the rate of white women.


There have been attempts to stitch together a more equitable response to the chasm between the multibillion dollar, predominantly white, male, cannabis industry and the devastating multigenerational impact the war on drugs has had on predominantly black and brown, men and woman and communities in the U.S., but a response that reflects acknowledgement and accountability has yet to come. 


On the federal cannabis level Senators Booker, Wyden and Schumer have offered up a marijuana decriminalization measure, while The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, decriminalize marijuana, expunge certain marijuana offenses from people’s records and “provide for reinvestment in certain persons adversely impacted by the War on Drugs is one such effort (although, as of this writing is doubtful to pass the Senate), but there have been few to no states that have been able to create a model that is bold, reparative and consistently enforced. 


Grassroot-level efforts tend to be more proximate and reflective but also paradigm shifting in how they approach and educate their communities; programs of note include, The Innocence Project, Minority Cannabis Business Association, Last Prisoner Project, EJI, National Bail Out and brands like 40Tons, cannaclusive, and publications like broccolimag and Anti Racism Daily (ARD) 


It wasn't until 2018 that hemp and all its derivatives became fully legalized through the passage of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (aka the 2018 Farm Bill). This distinction ushered in a wave of entrants to the hemp market and kicked off the CBD craze, with a waterfall of CBD products touted as cure-all elixirs for every kind of ailment.


Uninitiated ‘CBD users’ tapped into the power of this multifunctional plant and just like that hemp, and its most prominent compound, CBD, was reaffirmed as the botanical remedy it had been for millenia. And, while the CBD craze has opened up a dialogue dispelling some of the outrageous myths associated with cannabis, the hemp and cannabis industry writ large still have a long way to go where products and information are reliable and trustworthy.   

 

Want to learn more about the history of hemp, and other key points that will help you understand the cannabis industry? Sign up for our newsletter!

 

Stay tuned for next week’s part two on our latest blog series: Why We Started at The Soil.