Hemp in History

Wars have been fought for hemp, the fibre being needed for uniforms, rope/cordage and for the fleets of sailing ships, both merchant and naval vessels.

Canvas sails (canvas is the dutch pronunciation of the Greek word “Kannabis”  – K means cane and B means two, two reeds or two sexes) rigging, anchor ropes, cargo and fishing nets, flags, shrouds and oakum (caulking as a waterproof sealant) an average ship in the 16-19 century used 50-100 tonnes of hemp rigging plus the sails etc. Much of which had to be replaced every year or two, due to salt root.

The fibre was also used to produce the paper, maps, logs and bibles used on board.

The Napoleonic/Russian war 1812 was fought over hemp (Napoleon wanted to stop Rusia from providing hemp fibre to the British navy), and after outlawing hemp as marijuana in 1937 in the USA, they had to back track during world war two when fibre was required for the war effort.

With the hysteria created by “refer madness” in the first half of the 20th century, the US Government banned cannabis with the US Marijuana Tax Act, 1937.

The United Nations have also got controls in place for cannabis.  Under the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, 1961

In New Zealand hemp was banned by the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975.

In 1945 the US Government produced the “Hemp For Victory” News Reel (Hemp for Victory) asking all patriotic Americans to grow hemp, at the same time Germany produced a primer (a newspaper) promoting the same information GermanPrimer-PDF-72dpi

Some countries have not interupted their industries but world wide the tendancey was to ban hemp.  In New Zealand there was a moratorium on even talking about cannabis, right up to the end of the 1990’s

In 1998 the NZHIA and other interested people and business were working hard on bring down this prohibition on even talking about hemp, once this was overcome the Government allowed trials to be conducted.

The trials went from 2000 to  2005 and resulted in the Misuse of Drugs Act – Industrial Hemp Regulations, 2006.  The regulations have allowed industrial hemp to be grown under licencee and be used to derive hemp products.

By law in New Zealand, only industrial can be used to make hemp products.

The decortication step, splitting the stems in to fibre 20% and hurd 80% was mechanized in the early 20th Century.  This was a critical development, which would have done what the “cotton gin” did for the cotton industry.  The mechanised approach would make the extraction of the fibre and hurd economic.

Unfortunately by 1937 when this machine was highlighted in the “Popular Mechanics article – The New Billion Dollar Crop”, the Marijuana tax act was in place effectively stopping the hemp industry in America.  In the same year DuPont patented Nylon (synthetic fibre) and the high sulfur processing technique to pulp wood products for paper, so these industries developed in the space left behind when hemp fibre and hurd/shiv were no longer available.

Interestingly the prohibition on cannabis meant that not a lot of work was done on developing the cultivation, processing and production of hemp.  We need to bring these activities into the 21st Century and New Zealand’s “kiwi ingenuity” approach means we can develop the IP associated with better processing and production techniques.

New Zealand can profit from growing and exporting hemp products and there is also licencing opportunities and export sale of machines available if we can develop efficient grow, harvest, processing and production techniques.


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