Remembering America’s Forgotten Crop

by Maximilian Eyle

In April, Governor Cuomo brought together farmers, elected officials, researchers, and other experts to discuss the future of the hemp industry in the State of New York. This was the first time a New York Governor had called such a meeting, and the event drew lots of publicity. “Industrial hemp has tremendous potential to grow manufacturing, support the creation of new jobs and boost the profitability of farms across New York,” Governor Cuomo said. “By  eliminating barriers and expanding research and development for both businesses and farms, New York will capitalize on this emerging crop to continue to move this region and this state forward.” Someone reading about this issue for the first time might be inclined to think that hemp is a new plant, something that we are just learning how to use. This could not be farther from the truth.

Hemp was one of the first plants cultivated by humans nearly 11,000 years ago in Asia. Its fibers have been used by countless civilizations across the globe to make rope, sails, paper, clothing, and many other products. The early Greek historian Herodotus documented its use in the year 480 BC, and Christopher Columbus used hemp rope on his ships. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and many other American presidents grew it. So important and commonplace was hemp in American History that the United States Constitution and the Declaration of Independence were written on hemp paper.

The legacy of hemp in modern America is quite different. It is currently illegal to grow hemp, except in circumstances where a state has issued a special license. This prohibition developed as a result of the War on Marijuana since hemp and marijuana are very closely related. There is, however, one major difference: hemp is not a psychoactive substance – it  lacks the THC that gives marijuana its intoxicating effect. Instead, it has longer fibers that make it ideal for use in textiles, paper, and even biofuels. But because it looks like marijuana, its production has been banned. It is only now that our nation’s marijuana laws are relaxing that our politicians are remembering the tremendous value hemp has for our economy. A state like New York could gain thousands of jobs and a significant boost in tax revenue by encouraging the agricultural development of industrial hemp.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has experience working in the drug policy field and writes about it every month for CNY Latino. Maximilian learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at