Industrial hemp somehow survived America’s narcotic age. Despite today’s uncertain politics and incomplete laws, it’s poised to become a major agricultural and industrial force. The manufacturing infrastructure is being built. Its penny stocks reflect hope, conviction and volatility. Research and development is under way, especially in construction materials and cannabidiol (CBD)-based medicines.

Oddly, however, hemp has been at a similar juncture before.

In the 1930s, hemp promised to change America. It had survived severe competition from cheaper fibers like jute, flax, sisal, abaca and vast quantities of imported Russian hemp. Technology had advanced and scientists had discovered that, besides rope, fabric and paper, hemp could be used in plastics, foods, fuel, dynamite — thousands of different uses from all parts of the plant: stalks for fiber; seeds for oil, hulls and mash; and high-cellulose hurds, the broken-up bits of the stem’s core, for making building materials and plastics. Henry Ford created a car whose body was processed from hemp; it ran on hemp ethanol. And hemp was sustainable, unlike America’s already vanishing forestland.

Yet, just as hemp seemed to reach its place in industry, a long-brewing fear rose from the shadows of urban America, and, caught in the glare of its flashier, frightening twin, marijuana, and the wake of Prohibition evangelism, hemp became a victim of an ascendant narcotic age. Its future vanished before it could arrive.

Today, however, the tenor has changed. Generations have come and gone, and hemp is no longer seen as a narcotic. Its new beginning may seem like deja vu, but it’s not history repeating itself.

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