Hemp History

Cannabis sativa appears to have originated in Central Asia and was probably first cultivated for its fibre. It has been grown in China for at least 4500 years. It is thought to have reached Europe by 1500BC.

Stone Age (8000 BC) – Hemp use dates back to the Stone Age, with hemp fiber imprints found in pottery shards in China and Taiwan over 7,000 years old. Civilization, agriculture, and hemp textile industries begin in Europe and Asia.

2900 BC – Chinese Emperor Fu His References Marijuana as a Popular Medicine.
“The Chinese Emperor Fu His (ca. 2900BC), whom the Chinese credit with bringing civilization to China, seems to have made reference to Ma, the Chinese word for Cannabis, noting that Cannabis was very popular medicine that possessed both yin and yang.”         

2737 BC – First written record of cannabis use, in the pharmacopoeia of Shen Nung, one of the fathers of Chinese medicine.

1500 BC – Cannabis-smoking Scythians sweep through Europe and Asia, settling and inventing the scythe.

1400 BC – Cultural and religious use of gangaor cannabis, and charas or hashish (resin) recorded used by Hindus in India.

600 BC – Zend-Avesta, Indian scripture, speaks of hemp’s intoxicating resin.

550 BC – The Persian prophet Zoroaster gives hemp first place in the sacred text, the Zend-Avesta, which lists over 10,000 medicinal plants.

500 BC – Gautama Buddha said to have survived by eating hempseed. Cannabis used in Germany (Hochdorf Hallstatt D wagon burialsite). First botanical drawings of cannabis in Constantinopolitaus.

450 BC – The Greek historian Herodotus describes the Scythians of central Asia throwing hemp onto heated stones undercanvas: ‘as it burns, it smokes like incense and the smell of it makes them drunk’; additionally notes the making of fine linens from hemp.

200 BC – Specimens of hemp paper were found inthe Great Wall of China.

300 BC – Carthage and Rome struggle for political and commercial power over hemp and spice trade routes in the Mediterranean.

100 BC – Chinese make paper from hemp and mulberry.

70 BC – Roman Emperor Nero’s surgeon,Dioscorides, praises cannabis for making the stoutest cords and for its medicinal properties.

45 – St Mark establishes the Ethiopian Coptic Church. The Copts claim that marijuana as a sacrament has a lineage descending from the Jewish sect, the Essenes, who are considered to be responsible for theDead Sea Scrolls.

70 – Roman Emperor Nero’s surgeon, Dioscorides praises Cannabis for making “the stoutest cords” and for it’s medical properties.

100 – Roman surgeon Dioscorides names the plant cannabis sativa and describes various medicinal uses. Pliny reported of industrial uses and wrote a manual on farming hemp.

140-208 – Hua Tuo, famous Chinesephysician and herbalist uses cannabis in a general anesthetic and other remedies.

400 – Cannabis cultivated for the first time in England at Old Buckeham Mare.

600 – Germans, Franks, Vikings and others make paper from Cannabis.

800 – Mohammed allows Cannabis, but forbids alcohol use.

1000 – The English word ‘Hempe’ first listed in a dictionary. Moslems produce hashish for medical and social use.

1150 – Moslems use Cannabis to start Europe’s first paper mill. Most paper is made from Cannabis for next 850 years.

1484 – Pope Innocent VIII singles out cannabis as an unholy sacrament of the Satanic mass.

1492 – Columbus sailed across the Atlantic with a ship made from 80 tons of hemp sails, caulking and rigging.

1494 – Hemp paper making starts in England.

1545 – Spanish bring Cannabis cultivationto Chile.

1554 – Spanish bring Cannabis cultivationto Peru.

1563 – Queen Elizabeth I decrees that land owners with 60 acres or more must grow Cannabis else face a £5 fine.

1564 – King Philip of Spain follows lead of Queen Elizabeth and orders Cannabis to be grown throughout his Empire from modern day Argentina to Oregon.

1606 – British take Cannabis to Canada tobe cultivated mainly for maritime uses.

1611 – British start cultivating Cannabisin Virginia.

1619 – Virginia colony makes CannabisCultivation Mandatory, followed by most other colonies. Europe pays Hemp bounties.

1631 – Cannabis used for bartering throughout American Colonies.

1632 – Pilgrims bring Cannabis to New England.

1645 – The Puritans cultivated hemp in New England to make clothes, shoes, ropes, and paper.

1700’s – American farmers are required by law to grow hemp in Virginia and other colonies.

1753 – Cannabis Sativa classified by Linneaus.

1776 – Declaration of Independence drafted on Cannabis paper.

1783 – Cannabis Indica classified byLamarck.

1790sGeorge Washington, Thomas Jefferson andJohn Adams, our founding fathers, grow hemp and extol its benefits.

1791 – President Washington sets dutieson Cannabis to encourage domestic industry. Jefferson calls Cannabis “anecessity” and urges farmers to grow Cannabis instead of tobacco.
1797 – The U.S.S. Constitution is outfittedwith 60 tons of hemp sails and rigging.

1800’s – Australia survives two prolonged famines by eating virtually nothing but hemp seed for protein and hemp leaves for roughage.

1807 – Napoleon signs the Treaty of Tilset with Czar Alexander of Russia which cuts off all legal Russian tradewith Britain. Britain blackmails and press gangs American sailors into illegally trading in Russian Hemp.

1808 – Napoleon wants to place French Troops at Russian ports to ensure the Treaty of Tilset is complied with. TheCzar refuses and turns a blind eye to Britain’s illegal trade in Cannabis.

1812 – 19th June America declares war on Britain. 24th June Napoleon invades Russia aiming to put an end to Britain’s main supply of Cannabis. By the end of the year the Russian winter and army had destroyed most of Napolean’s invading force.

1835 – The Club de Hashichines, whose bohemian membership included the poet Baudelaire, is founded.

1839 – Homeopathy journal American Provers’ Union publishes first of many reports on the effects of Cannabis.

1840 – Abraham Lincoln uses hemp seed oil to fuel his household lamps.

1841 – Dr. W.B. O’Shaunghnessy of Scotland works in India then introduces Cannabis to Western medicine. In thefollowing 50 years hundreds of medical papers are written on the medicalbenefits of Cannabis.

1845 – Psychologist and ‘inventor’ of modern psychopharmacology and psychotimimetic drug treatment, Jacques-JosephMoreau de Tours documents physical and mental benefits of Cannabis.

1850’s – Petrochemical age begins. Toxicsulfite and chlorine processes are implemented to begin making paper fromtrees.

1857 – ‘The Hasheesh Eater’ by Fitz HughLudlow is published. Smith Brothers of Edinburgh start to market a highly active extract of Cannabis Indica used as a basis for innumerable tinctures.

1860 – First Governmental commissionstudy of Cannabis and health conducted by Ohio State Medical society.

1862 – The decorticulator allows for the easy separation of the various grades of hemp fibre.

1870 – Cannabis is listed in the USPharmacopoeia as a medicine for various ailments.

1873 – Levi Strauss receives rights to patent their denim jeans made from hemp cloth to reinforce points of strain, such as the base of the button fly and pocket corners.

1876 – Hashish served at AmericanCentennial Exposition.

1890 – Queen Victoria’s personalphysician, Sir Russell Reynolds, prescribes Cannabis for menstrual cramps. He claims in the first issue of The Lancet, that Cannabis “When pure and administered carefully, is one of the of the most valuable medicines we possess”

1890- 1940s USDA Chief Botanist, Lyster Dewey, grows five varieties of hemp at Arlington Farms in Virginia, the current site of the Pentagon.

1895 – The Indian Hemp Drug Commission concludes that cannabis has some medical uses, no addictive properties and a number of positive emotional and social benefits. First known use of the word ‘marijuana’ for smoking, by Pancho Villa’s supporters in Sonora Mexico. The song “La Curaracha” tells the story of one of Villa’s men looking for his stash of “marijuana por fumar”

1910 – African-American ‘reefer’ use reported in jazz clubs of New Orleans, said to be influencing white people. Mexican’s reported to be smoking Cannabis in Texas. Newspaper tycoon Randolph Hearst has 800,000 acres of prime Mexican Timberland seized from him by Villaand his men. Could this be the reason why his newspapers subsequently ran many stories portraying Negroes and Mexicans as frenzied beasts under the influence of ‘Marijuana’.

1911 – Hindus reported to be using ‘Gunjah’ in San Francisco. South Africa starts to outlaw Cannabis.

1912 – The possibility of putting controls on the use of Cannabis is raised at the first International OpiumConference.

1915 – California outlaws Cannabis.

1916 – Recognizing that timber supplies are finite, USDA Bulletin 404 calls for new program of expansion of Cannabis to replace uses of timber by industry.

1919 – Texas outlaws Cannabis.

1923 – The South African delegate to the League of Nations claims mine workers are not as productive after using ‘dagga’ (Cannabis) and calls for international controls. Britain insists on further research before any controls are imposed.

1924 – At the second International Opiates Conference the Egyptian delegate claims that serious problems are associated with Hashish use and calls for immediate international controls. A Sub-Committee is formed and listens to the Egyptian and Turkish delegations while Britain abstains. The conference declares Cannabis a Narcotic and recommends strict international control.

1925 – The ‘Panama Canal Zone Report’ conducted due to the level of Cannabis use by soldiers in the area concludesthat there is no evidence that Cannabis use is habit-forming or deleterious.The report recommends that no action be taken to prevent the use or sale of Cannabis.

1928 – September 28th. The Dangerous Drugs Act 1925 becomes law and Cannabis is made illegal in Britain.

1930 – Louis Armstrong is arrested in Los Angeles for possession of cannabis.

1931 – The Federal Bureau of Narcotics is formed with Anslinger appointed as its head.

1937 – Following action by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics and a campaign by newspaper magnate William RandolphHearst, a prohibitive tax is put on hemp in the USA, effectively destroying the industry. Anslinger testifies to congress that ‘Marijuana’ is the most violence causing drug known to Man. The objections by the American Medical Association (The AMA only realised that ‘Marijuana’ was in fact Cannabis 2 days before the start of hearing) and the National Oil Seed Institute are rejected.

1938 – The February edition of US magazine Popular Mechanics (written before the Marijuana Transfer Tax was passed) declares ‘Hemp – the New Billion Dollar Crop.’

1941 – Cannabis dropped from the American Pharmacopoeia. Popular Mechanics Magazine reveal details of Henry Ford’s plastic car made using Cannabis and fuelled from Cannabis. Henry Ford continued to illegally grow Cannabis for some years after the Federal ban, hoping to become independent of the petroleum industry.

1942 – Henry Ford builds an experimental car body made with hemp fiber, which is ten times stronger than steel.

1943 – Both the US and German government surge their patriotic farmers to grow hemp for the war effort. The US shows farmers a short film – ‘Hemp for Victory’ which the government later pretends never existed. The editor of ‘Military Journal’ states that although some military personnel smoke Cannabis he does not view this as a problem.

1944 – New York Mayor LaGuardia’s Marijuana commission reports that Cannabis causes no violence at all and cites other positive results. Anslinger responds by denouncing LaGuardia and threatens doctors with prison sentences if they dare carry out independent research on Cannabis.

1945 – Newsweek reports that over 100,000 Americans use Cannabis.

1948 – Harry Anslinger now declares that using Cannabis causes the user to become peaceful and pacifistic. He also claims that the Communists would use Cannabis to weaken the American’s will to fight.

1951 – UN bulletin of Narcotic Drugsestimates 200 million Cannabis users worldwide.

1952 – First UK Cannabis bust at the Number 11 Club, Soho.

1961 – Harry Anslinger heads US delegation at UN Drugs Convention. New international restrictions are placed on Cannabis aiming to eliminate its use within 25 years.

1962 – Harry Anslinger is sacked by President Kennedy. Kennedy may well have smoked cannabis in the White House, perhaps as a pain reliever.

1964 – The first head shop is opened by the Thelin brothers in the United States.

1966 – The folk singer Donovan becomes the first celebrity hippy to fall foul of the law.

1967 – In July over 3,000 people hold a mass ‘smoke-in’ in Hyde Park in London. The same month, The Times carries a pro-legalisation advertisement which declares that “the laws against Marijuana are immoral in principle and unworkable in Practice. The signatories include David Dimbleby, Bernard Levin, and the Beatles.

1967 – The most famous bust of all, on the home of Rolling Stone, Keith Richards, uncovered marijuana. Richards and Mick Jagger were sentenced to prison for respectively three months and one year. The sentences prompted an outcry that culminated in Lord Rees Mogg’s famous Times editorial ‘Who brakes a butterfly on a wheel?’ The convictions were quashed on appeal.

1967 – In New York, on Valentines Day, Abbie Hoffman and the Yippies mail out 3000 joints to addresses chosen at random from the phonebook. They offer these people the chance to discover what all the fuss is about, but remind them that they are now criminals for possessing cannabis. The mail out was secretly funded by Jimi Hendrix, and attracts huge publicity.

1968 – A Home Office select committee, chaired by Baroness Wootton, looks at the ‘cannabis question’. Its report concluded that cannabis was no more harmful than tobacco or alcohol, and recommended that the penalties for all marijuana offences be reduced. Campaignagainst Cannabis use by US Troops in Vietnam – Soldiers switch to heroin.

1969 – Incoming Labour minister Jim Callaghan rejects the Wootton recommendations and introduces a new Misuse ofDrugs Act, which prescribes a maximum five years’ imprisonment for possession.The Act remains in force to this day.

1970 – Canadian Le Dain report claims that the debate on the non-medical use of Cannabis “has all too often beenbased on hearsay, myth and ill-informed opinion about the effects of thedrug.” Marijuana Transfer Tax’ declared unconstitutional by the US Supreme Court.

1970 – U.S. Congress designates hemp, along with its relative marijuana, as a “Schedule 1” drug under the Controlled Substances Act, making it illegal to grow without a license from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

1971 – Misuse of Drugs Act lists Cannabisas a Class B drug and bans its medical use despite the recommendation of the Wootton Report that “Preparations of Cannabis and it’s derivatives should continue to be available on prescription for purposes of medical treatment and research”. President Nixon declares drugs “America’s public enemy No.1”.

1972 – The White House passes a $1billion anti-drug bill and Nixon again declares drugs America’s public enemyNo. 1″. The US Government Shafer report voices concern at the level of spending used to stop illicit drug use. From 1969-73 the level of spending roseover 1000 percent.

1973 – President Nixon declares “We have turned the corner on drug addiction in America’. Oregon becomes the firststate to take steps towards legalisation.

1975 – Hundreds of Doctors call on US Government to instigate further research on Cannabis. Supreme Court of Alaska declares that ‘right of privacy’ protects Cannabis possession in the home. Limit for public possession is set at one ounce.

1976 – Ford Administration bans government funding of medical research on Cannabis. Pharmaceutical companies allowed to carry out research on synthetic, manmade Cannabis analogues. Holland adopts policy of tolerance to Cannabis users. Robert Randal becomes first American to receive Cannabis from Federal supplies under a Investigational NewDrug (IND) program. Ford’s chief advisor on drugs, Robert Dupont declares that Cannabis is less harmful than alcohol or tobacco and urges for it’s decriminalisation. Disturbances erupt at the end of the Notting Hill carnival.BBC News reports: ‘Scores of young black men roamed the streets late into the night, openly smoking marijuana joints and listening to the non-stop pounding of reggae music’.

1978 – New Mexico becomes first US state to make Cannabis available for medical use.

1980 – Paul McCartney spends ten days in prison in Japan for possession of cannabis.

1983 – UK convictions for cannabis possession exceed 20,000, having risen from just under 15,000 in 1980. US government instructs American Universities and researchers to destroy all1966-76 Cannabis research work.

1988 – In Washington, DEA Judge FrancisYoung concludes at the end of a lengthy legal process that “Marijuana in its natural form is one of the safest therapeutically active substances known to man”. He recommends that medical use of marijuana should be allowed, for certain life- or sense-threatening illnesses. The DEA administrator rejectsthe ruling. US Senate adds $2.6 Billion to federal anti-drug efforts.

1989 – Outgoing president Reagan declares victory in War on Drugs as being a major achievement of his administration.Secretary of State James Baker reports that the global war on narcotics production “is clearly not being won.”

1990 – The discovery of THC receptors in the human brain is reported in Nature.

1991 – 42,209 people are convicted of cannabis offences in the UK. 19,583 escape with cautions.

1993 – Hempcore become the first British company to obtain a license to grow Cannabis as the Home Office liftrestrictions on industrial hemp cultivation.

1994 – Home Secretary Michael Howard increases maximum fines for possession from £500 to £2,500. Germany becomes the first European country apart from Holland to decriminalise possession of ‘small quantities of cannabis for occasional use’. The Liberal-Democrat conference votes for a Royal Commission, yet the tabloid press report that they support legalisation! Key rings with leaves taken from Hempcore’s first Harvest are illegally sold in such publications as ‘Viz’. The Home Office are aware of the situation but do not prosecute Hempcore who could have been facing 15 years and an unlimited fine. Association of Cannabis Therapeutics talks to Department OfHealth about possibility of Legalising Cannabis for Medical use.

1995 – Channel 4 dedicate 8 hours of programming to Cannabis on Pot Night. The BBC respond with blatant anti-cannabis propaganda on Panorama. 10 millionth cannabis arrest in the US in July. Labour shadow minister Clare Short says the subject of decriminalisation should be discussed. She is immediately denounced by other leading Labour Politicians.

1997 – The newspaper The Independent launched a “Decriminalise cannabis” campaign. They believed that a change would come to the newly elected Labour government but they were wrong, but they did organise a big demonstration in London in March of 1998 before dropping the campaign. These large demonstrations becamean annual event fpr some time thereafter, although they were no longer organised by the newspaper.

1998 – The U.S. begins to import food-grade hemp seed and oil.

2000 – 2010 New processing technologies arise to commercialize “cottonized” hemp, hemp concrete, high-tech hemp composites and other novel hemp applications.

2000 – After four long years of attempted repression of cannabis under the first Labour Administration of Tony Blair, the climate of opinion began to change. In September of 2000, at the Tory party conference, the then shadow Home Secretary, Anne Widdecombe to make her keynotes
speech which was to be in the tradition of firm support for the issue of law and order. She announced that the next Conservative government would have a”crack down” on cannabis and she even proposed on the spot fines for simple small scale possession. The media and the police tore the speech apartas unworkable and even undesirable. Several Tory MP’s admitted past use, the crack down on cannabis was over.

2001 – At the start of the new administration in June 2001 the police in Lambeth, South London announced that they would no longer give anyone found in possession of cannabis a criminalrecord and the issue of legalisation became a major issue in the campaign forthe leadership of the Conservative party. We began to hope change was close.

2001 – October: The government sets up a Select Committee to look at drugs policy. When giving evidence the HomeSecretary (David Blunkett) announces his intention to move cannabis from classB to class C, making possession a non-arrestable offence.

2004 – January: The long awaitedreclassification finally happened, but the law relating to Class C drugs waschanged so as to make most of the changes meaningless. The government spends 1million pounds on an advertising campaign to tell people nothing had changedand that Cannabis is still illegal.

2004 – Ninth Circuit Court decision in HempIndustries Association vs. DEA permanently protects sales of hemp foods andbody care products in the U.S.

2005 – A bill is introduced in the U.S.Congress for the first time to allow states to regulate hemp farming, but todate no committee hearing or floor vote has taken place.

2005 – Reefer madness V2 launched by themental health charities RETHINK and SANE, drawing attention to research whichclaimed to show a link between cannabis use and serious mental illness. The campaign was used as a platform to oppose the reclassification to class C andover the next four years a series of alarmist and totally inaccurate newspaperreports carried scare stories of a dangerous new version of cannabis -“skunk” – said to be 30 or more times stronger than cannabis used to be.

The ACMD examines the issue and recommends no change to the classification of cannabis and the Home Secretary Charles Clarke agrees to keep it where it is, but orders a total review of the drugs classifications. Clarke is replaced shortly after and his review is scrapped.

2007 – Tony Blair finally stands down to widespread relief, but is replaced by Gordon Brown who announces his intention to move cannabis to class B again. The issue is returned to the ACMD for their advice upon which the decision would normally have been based.

2007 – The first hemp licenses in over 50 years are granted to two North Dakota farmers.

2008 – ACMD reports that cannabis should remain class C. Research carried out for the Home Office but not made public forover a year is leaked by the Guardian and shows incidence of psychosis has actually dropped during the time cannabis use increased (see here). Gordon Brown ignores the ACMD advice and announces cannabis will be returned to class B.

2009 – Cannabis is returned to class B of the misuse of drugs act in January. The chair of the advosory body the ACMD, Prof Nutt, is forced to resign for criticising the governments descision to move cannabis back to class B.

2010 – HIA uncovers diaries and photographs of the USDA’s Chief Botanist Lyster Dewey, who grew 5 varieties of hemp on the current site of the Pentagon.

2011 – Today, the U.S. is the only developed country that has not established hemp as an agricultural crop, according to the Congressional Research Service.

2012 – The U.S. states of Washington and Colorado, by voter referendum, pass legislation calling for the recreational-use legalization of cannabis for adults. Hemp production will also be allowed in Colorado.

2013 – The country of Uruguay fully legalizes cannabis for recreational use.

2014 – Jan – New Hampshire legalizes fully for recreational.



Part of the timeline was compiled by Rob Christopher of CHIC using the following sources:
Chris Conrad, HEMP, Lifeline to the Future(ISBN 0-963975-1-2)
Ernest Abel, Marijuana, The First 12,000 years(Plenum Press, New York 1980)
Jack Herer, The Emperor Wears No Clothes (ISBN# 1-878125-00-1)
Peter Stratford, Psychedelics Encyclopaedia(ISBN 0-9114171-51-8)

Some more came from the web site that accompanied Channel 4’s Pot Night.

UKCIA checked and corrected the above and added more using:
Terrence McKenna, Food Of The Gods
Abbie Hoffman, Soon To Be A Major Motion Picture
Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

Further data and citations merging UKCIA data with these sources (in 2013 by Jack Draak and Puff Mama)