Did You Know? 

Cannabis in Illinois is legal for both medical and recreational use. Illinois became the eleventh state in the US to legalize recreational marijuana on January 1, 2020.

The History of Cannabis in North America

“Hemp/industrial hemp” and flower (formerly known as “marijuana”) are two distinct varieties of cannabis. “Hemp” is a fiber crop. Cannabis is used for medicine. However, these definitions have become confused in the last 60 years. Recently, a movement has begun to distinguish the terms again. It is important to understand the history of the usage of these terms in order to eliminate confusion.

1600-1930s History of Hemp

The word “hemp” has been in the English language for over 800 years. The word “marijuana” is only 100 years old.
From the first settling of North America until the 1930s, “hemp” was the most common term for Cannabis sativa fiber crops. “Marijuana” was never used to describe hemp fiber crops, which were grown for canvas, rope, fuel oil, and paper. “Hemp” fiber crops were historically low THC and completely non-psychoactive.

1930s-1940s Marijuana Tax Act Confuses ‘Hemp’ and ‘Marijuana’

In the 1930s, the psychoactive (high-THC) variety of cannabis Sativa, imported from Mexico, became common in the southern U.S. It was called “marijuana”, a word popularized through the “Reefer Madness” campaign, to distinguish it from the “hemp” fiber crops (which no one ever smoked).

In 1937, the passage of the Marijuana Tax Act hopelessly confused the terms “hemp” and “marijuana”. For the first time, Congress defined these distinct varieties of Cannabis sativa as being the same. What had been commonly known as “hemp” was now “marijuana.”

1950s Hemp Crops Become Extinct

In 1957, the last “hemp” fiber crop was harvested in the U.S. Because low-THC Cannabis sativa fiber crops were now extinct, the word “hemp” dropped out of use and was forgotten.

1960s Marijuana Legalization Movement Begins

In the 1960s, the psychoactive variety of cannabis Sativa (“marijuana”) became popular among the counter-culture. The movement to legalize “marijuana” in the 1960s and 1970s did not use the term “hemp” to describe “marijuana”.

1985 Hemp/Marijuana Movement Begins

In 1985, the word “hemp” re-surfaced in the book The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer. This book uncovered information that had been lost for almost 40 years about “hemp’s” historical uses as a fiber crop. The book also touted “hemp” as a solution to modern environmental problems.

Because The Emperor was targeted at a “marijuana” movement and since it was not widely known that low-THC varieties of hemp existed in Europe and Asia, it was believed that “marijuana” must be legalized to allow industrial uses of “hemp”. And because it was the environmentalists and the counter-culture that began promoting hemp as an alternative fiber crop, they were not taken seriously.

1989 European Farmers Grow Hemp

In Europe, some countries (like France and Spain) had never stopped producing “hemp”. In 1989, the European Economic Community developed rules to govern “hemp” production that applied to all its member countries. The EEC defined registered seed varieties for low THC “hemp” and methods for testing “hemp” for THC content.

1993-1994 England and Canada Grow Hemp

In 1993, England officially recognized the difference between “hemp” and “marijuana”, to make its farmers competitive in the EEC. In 1994, Canada, seeing competition from Europe, allowed “hemp” production.

1994 Kentucky Appoints Hemp Task Force

In November of 1994, the Governor of Kentucky, seeing competition from Canada and Europe, appointed a Task Force to study the commercial possibilities of “hemp” in his state.

1994-1995 Hemp/Industrial Hemp Movement Begins in the U.S.

For the first time, farmers, manufacturers, processors, and agricultural researchers in North America began to take a serious look at “hemp” as an agricultural crop and alternative fiber. As well, the “hemp” environmentalists within the “marijuana” movement see that registered seed varieties exist to distinguish “hemp” from “marijuana”.

This diverse coalition begins using the word “industrial hemp” (or simply “hemp”) to refer exclusively to low-THC non-psychoactive varieties of Cannabis sativa. The goal of the “industrial hemp” movement is to allow legitimate production of “hemp” fiber crops and to explore the environmental benefits of “hemp” as an alternative fiber, pulp, and oil source.

Jan. 1995 Colorado Senator Introduces Hemp Legislation

In January 1995, Senator Lloyd Casey (D-Northglenn), made Colorado the first state to attempt to define “hemp/industrial hemp” as a distinct form of “marijuana” when he introduced the Hemp Production Act. Unfortunately, this bill was killed in Committee due to objections from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

Oct. 1995 North American Industrial Hemp Council Formed

In October 1995, the steering committee of the North American Industrial Hemp Council made “industrial hemp” an entirely distinct issue, separate from the legalization of “marijuana.”

Jan. 1996 Colorado and Vermont Introduce Hemp Legislation

Legislators in two states introduced “industrial hemp” legislation, Sen. Lloyd Casey (D) from Colorado and Rep. Fred Maslack (R) from Vermont.

Jan. 1996 Support for Hemp Grows

A strong coalition of diverse organizations now supports “Industrial hemp”, including:

  • American Farm Bureau Federation (4.6 million-member)
  • Colorado Farm Bureau
  • Colorado Department of Agriculture
  • Colorado State Grange
  • Kentucky Farm Bureau
  • Kentucky Hemp Growers Cooperative
  • Wisconsin Agribusiness Council
  • Wisconsin Department of Agriculture
  • International Paper Company
  • Bolton Emerson Americas
  • Colorado Environmental Coalition
  • Oregon Natural Resources Council
  • HIA (Hemp Industries Association)
  • North American Industrial Hemp Council

Most, if not all of these groups have specifically stated that they are opposed to the legalization of marijuana. They realize the difference between “hemp/industrial hemp” and “marijuana” and that “hemp/industrial hemp” can be grown safely without affecting “marijuana” laws, production, or use.

Today: Making Progress…

25 of 53 state hemp-related bills introduced since 1995 have passed and overall, 14 states have successfully passed hemp-related legislation. In 2002, hemp bills have been introduced in seven states: Arizona, California, Hawaii, New Mexico, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. The CA, HI, and WV bills have passed, the NM and VT bills have died in committee, and the AZ and WI bills have been held until 2003.

Cannabis Became Legal in Illinois on January 1, 2020.

With the passage of the Illinois Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act in 2019, Illinois became the first state in the nation to legalize recreational sales by an act of the state legislature, as previous states had legalized sales by voter initiatives.

Vermont legalized recreational use, but not sales, through its legislature (later legalizing sales after Illinois had already done so). At full maturity, Illinois is expected to generate between $2 to $4 billion in annual revenues from recreational sales.

A first in the nation, Illinois will also expunge an estimated 700,000 marijuana-related police records and court convictions in a phased approach forecast to be completed by 2025.

Retail sales from recreational cannabis in Illinois average an estimated $40 million in revenue each month since legalization.[4]

Since 2014, the Illinois Medical Cannabis Patient Program (MCPP) has also enrolled over 143,000 qualifying patients in the state’s medical cannabis and opioid alternative programs across 55 dispensaries offering a lower tax rate when compared to recreational transactions.

Retail sales from the medical programs alone have topped nearly $790 million to date.