After realizing that the planet earth did not break off its axis in the aftermath of marijuana legalization in Colorado, Washington, and other states, many Americans felt better.  The “gateway drug” did not turn countless masses into mindless zombies—public education has succeeded in it already, cynics would argue—who started shooting heroin between their toes immediately after smoking a couple of joints.

[Uruguay, where marijuana was legalized in 2017, and most recently Canada (October 2018) are not going to implode either.]  

Industrial hemp, marijuana’s unattractive cousin, is on a track to finally lose restriction-by-association status it has held since the 1930s.  Only during the World War II period, when “Hemp for Victory!” was an inspiring slogan leading the nation and its young and promising youths in 4H Clubs toward a greater cause, hemp was legally cultivated.  In Kentucky, 4H clubs were told that:

“Uncle Sam has asked Kentucky to produce in 1943 the hemp seed for the nation. Some of the seed will be used in 1944 to grow another seed crop, but most of it will be used to grow hemp for fiber. Growing hemp gives 4-H Club members a real opportunity to serve their country in wartime. It requires a small amount of fertile land and little or no special machinery; labor requirements do not interfere with school work.

Grow at least half an acre of hemp; one to two acres would be better. Land that will produce 40 or more bushels of corn per acre will make 12 to 15 bushels of hemp seed per acre. Club members know how to tackle a new task; try this one.”

War at a Domestic Front

When the war ended so did the prospects of commercial cultivation of hemp.  American farmers would face prison sentences for attempting to do what was asked of them in previous years.  This type of hypocritical public policy continued to present times, efficiently covered with an umbrella of a perpetual War on Drugs.

Figure 1.  Cultural landscape of the American side of the Great Plains.  Unlike in Manitoba, Canada, where it is legal, planting hemp here rather than leaving overgrown fields of regular weeds, would land a farmer in prison.  (All photographs were taken by the author.)

Disengaged public and spineless politicians have together spent decades ignoring hemp’s enormous potential benefits for the economy, the environment, and public health.  Voices who called for the return of hemp cultivation experienced ridicule and faced legal repercussions.  An occasional attempt in the U.S. Congress to pass a resolution or a bill to legalize hemp cultivation, e.g., from the former Congressmen Ron Paul, received little support.


Like any other revolution, this one began with a few voices in the wilderness who remained persistent in advocacy for hemp legalization.  When their numbers and impact reached significant levels of exposure the politicians suddenly had a revelation.

Remarkably, it took the state-level legalization of marijuana (hallucinogenic drug) in order to end the prohibition of hemp (a harmless agricultural and industrial product) in Colorado and Washington.  It is almost like legalizing heroin first in order to legalize poppy seed production to sprinkle them on bagels.  In Washington State, for example, I observed that the legalization and regulation of marijuana was quick and efficient.  Yet regulation of hemp cultivation in Washington agriculture was lagging behind rather greatly, reflecting the mentioned general public’s indifference and politicians’ timidity.

At the federal level, despite years of resistance from legislative and executive branches of the government, changes in status of hemp are finally on the horizon.  NBCNews has reported on December 16th, 2018, that:

“The U.S. hemp industry is expecting business to expand and investors to beckon after Congress on Wednesday passed farm legislation that included a provision to legalize and regulate the plant under the Department of Agriculture….The bill, awaiting President Trump’s signature, opens the door to state-by-state regulation, removes hemp, which is part of the cannabis plant family, from the federal enforcement of outlaw drugs and gives hemp farmers access to banking, crop insurance and federal grants, experts said.”

Casualties of War

After they finally legalize hemp, the federal legislators will remind us of their vanguard vision in helping the nation’s economy.  In reality, their action is nothing other than an excellent example of the opposite.  For many decades they stood silent while preventing farmers and entrepreneurs from doing what with a stroke of pen can suddenly (again) become normal farming activity.

[President Trump signed the bill into law on December 20th, 2018.  House Agriculture Committee Chairman, K. Michael Conaway, commented: “With President Trump signing the farm bill today, America keeps faith with those hard-working farm and ranch families who put food on our tables and clothes on our backs (emphasis mine).”] 

In a couple of years no one will remember that it was exactly the federal authorities who, for decades, exercised the power of sending people to prison if they tried to farm hemp.  The politicians will respond with “We just followed the public opinion like we always do,” confirming that they do not represent a vanguard of any kind; outlawing hemp cultivation was not on the public’s radar until  special interests influenced the Congress to make it illegal. 

Making hemp illegal was certainly not in public’s socioeconomic interest.  Many American farmers could have prospered, saved their farms from bankruptcy if they had been allowed to farm this incredibly versatile plant (which has over 20,000 industrial and other applications).  All the businesses that will be created with possible hemp legalization could have been operating for decades.

Collateral Damage

Casualties of the American war on hemp marijuana, within a broader war on Schedule 1 type drugs, have not only happened inside of our country’s borders.  This has been an issue worldwide as a result of cultural diffusion from the United States in regulating this plant—and the long arm of Drug Enforcement Agency and other American agencies. 

During the second part of the twentieth century, many countries and regions followed the American example in grouping hemp into the illegal category with marijuana and other drugs.  It resulted in a two-fold outcome.  First, it made their general public believe hemp is a dangerous drug.  Second, it prevented a national-level discourse about hemp’s benefits despite the plant being used for millennia in those regions.

After the War on Drugs, the United States’ longest war is in Afghanistan.  Seventeen years since it began, its end is nowhere on the horizon (despite most recent announcements).  Another constant in this conflict is that many Afghans are always on the brink of starvation.  As I write these words the reports from Afghanistan indicate that currently:

“Due to drought and prolonged conflict, Afghanistan is experiencing its worst food insecurity emergency since the 2011 drought with an atypically high number of households in need of emergency assistance. The drought mainly affected rainfed wheat production and livestock pasture. Other agriculture products did not have as severe production losses, in part because households in some areas used irrigated water for second season and horticulture production.”

Afghans plant plenty of marijuana, but hardly any hemp.  This is not by accident.  No one has told to people that they can do it, informed them about the benefits, and provided conditions for its processing for industrial use, like I noted in Hemp for Afghan Victory.  The current Afghan Minister of Agriculture, whom I interviewed in 2011 (note the year in a previous paragraph’s drought reference) and asked about the scale of hemp cultivation in Afghanistan, was dumbfounded with my question and had no answer to it.

Figure 2. Cultural ecology in Afghanistan during the 2011 drought.  This farmer grows fruits and vegetables, which he sells for cash to purchase staple foods.  He is unaware that hemp can be an answer to his woes, to be both a cash crop and staple food that grows equally as well as does the marijuana in the field down the road.

Perhaps the Minister may have an answer today, but I suspect that the magnitude of hemp cultivation has not changed considerably since 2011.  The only way this trend will change is when the United States fully exonerates hemp domestically; subsequently hemp-related funding and projects may become a greater part of Afghanistan’s reconstruction.  Overcoming malnourishment of Afghans depends greatly on the American President’s support of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.  It would be a great success for a zombie-turning “gateway drug’s” cousin, which is begging to be cultivated; this time Uncle Sam can help Afghan youth cultivate hemp for victory in their own war efforts.

Geography of Hemp’s Return
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