Hemp has played a long part in the history of Massachusetts, Colonial America, and the United States.
Once upon a time, hemp-cannabis was a crop that had many uses and was of great importance to residents of Massachusetts and all thirteen colonies.
It’s a little known fact that British colonies were required by law to grow hemp. That’s how important it was to the British Empire during the colonial era.
The Mayflower, which landed in Massachusetts was able to sail to America because of hemp. Caulking made from hemp was used to ensure that the wooden hull was watertight. The Mayflower’s ropes, lines, and sails were made of hemp, and the pilgrims that ultimately settled in Massachusetts likely had garments made with hemp.
The natural properties of hemp made it a top choice for sail-powered wooden hull era maritime applications. Early colonial shipwrights recognized hemp for its natural ability to remain intact, even when pitted against some of the harshest environments the ocean could throw at it.
The famous U.S. Navy ship “Old Ironsides,” AKA USS Constitution, which was built in Boston is an excellent example of how critical hemp was in Massachusetts and colonial America.
She required approximately 120,000 pounds of hemp fiber during her fitting. The hemp was used for lines, rigging, making sails, and even caulking for the wooden hull.
Hemp played a significant role in the colonial economy. It was manufactured into canvas, paper, cloth, rope, sails; you name it. The closest comparison today would be plastic or rubber.
Hemp – cannabis was grown across Massachusetts, and throughout the original thirteen colonies, it remained an essential crop for over a century. So, what happened?
Technology changed, sails turned to steam, decreasing the demand for rope, lines and sails, and cotton became more prevalent for clothing following the invention of the cotton gin.
By the late 19th century, the hemp crop in Massachusetts was almost non-existent. Marijuana became a popular ingredient in many medicinal products and was sold openly in public pharmacies.
During the 19th century, hashish use became a fad in France and also, to some extent, in the U.S.
In the early 20th century, Massachusetts was the first state in the country to ban cannabis. The ban was primarily due to a fear of Marijuana use, as smoking was introduced by Mexican immigrants. Smoking Marijuana was linked by many to crime and sin. In 1911 the legislature approved a law prohibiting the sale except by licensed pharmacists. The law required anyone purchasing to have a doctors prescription.
Nearly 100 years passed before anything changed. During this time, hemp and cannabis were illegal for the most part. Being caught in possession lead to arrest for many, and criminal records that left a long-lasting impact on many lives.
Finally, in the early 21st century, things began to change for the better.
In 2008 Massachusetts’ voters approved a ballot initiative that decriminalized possession of marijuana.
Four years later, in 2012, medical marijuana was approved, allowing licensed dispensaries to sell to qualifying patients. It was like 1911 all over again!
Move forward four more years to 2016, and once again, Massachusetts’ voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing adult use of cannabis and establishing a regulated cannabis market, similar to alcohol.
In 2018 two significant things happened. The federal Farm Bill was passed, legalizing regulated production of hemp. The Farm Bill recognized that hemp and marijuana – cannabis were not the same, a significant step forward!
2018 was also big for Massachusetts as the first two retail – recreational dispensaries opened on November 20th.
Today, MA residents can legally *grow cannabis, possess cannabis, and use cannabis recreationally without fear of legal prosecution.
The Massachusetts hemp industry is also booming. Farmers are growing hemp for CBD products, and companies like High Purity Natural Products are manufacturing safe, legal, and natural CBD products that benefit many.
We’ve come a long way!
*Please be sure to check Massachusetts laws as there are limitations on all of these things.