In the beginning....
Hemp has been cultivated by us humans for 10,000 years. It was an important crop in ancient China and Mesopotamia, as it was used as a food source and a fibre source.
Hemp spread across Europe around 1200 BCE throughout the Roman Empire there are records of hemp crops being cultivated as a source of medicine. Ancient medicines refer to use of leaves, seeds and roots. The seed and flowers were recommended for difficult childbirth, convulsions, arthritic joints, rheumatism, dysentery and insomnia.
Hemp became a crop of economic importance during the Middle Ages, as a food source and fibre. Hemp was of great importance to sailing and maritime trade. Sail cloth was made often of canvas the cloth that borrowed its name from its original plant source Cannabis Sativa (hemp), and sailing ropes made of hemp were of great importance as they were resistant to salt water, and much stronger than cotton.
In the UK,Henry VIII passed an act in 1535 ordering all landowners to sow 1/4 of an acre, or face fines.Hemp was a major crop through this period, and up to the 1920’s 80% of clothing was made from hemp textiles.
There is speculation that hemp likely existed in the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans.
Hemp was grown throughout Canada before confederation. Under the French regime, hemp was the first crop to be subsidized by government. By 1822 there were six hemp mills in Canada at the time, and the government financed a seventh, the Manitoba Cordage Company.
While hemp played an important role in the development of of North America, it was overshadowed by cotton, of which the production is less labour intensive.
Hemp production seemed promising with the rise of the industrial age as hemp production machinery sought to ease the labour intensive processing of the crop, however at the pressure of plastics and petroleum textile companies like DuPont, a propaganda campaign levied excise taxes on hemp, eventually getting hemp production altogether banned in Canada and the USA under the Opium and Narcotics act of 1938.
Restrictions were lifted temporarily during WWII as part of the war effort, however the bans were put back in place following the war.
In 1998, the Canadian Government provided enabling legislation allowing for the planting and processing of industrial hemp, but it remains highly regulated and monitored by Health Canada, who licenses its cultivation.
The 2018 Cannabis Act, which legalized recreational marijuana in Canada, also incorporated new industrial hemp regulations that permitted growers to produce and harvest hemp flower, leaves and branches and sell them to licensed processors for cannabinoid extraction, opening up new opportunities for the industry.