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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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by David Southern, 2006

Hemp is the generic term for Cannabis sativa (or in its wild form, Cannabis indica), an annual herb used for millennia as a source of fiber for rope, cloth, and paper and also as a psychotropic drug. In colonial North Carolina hemp was one of many naval stores exported, and its cultivation was encouraged on both sides of the Atlantic throughout the eighteenth century. In more recent years it has been designated a "controlled substance," for, though the form bred for fiber has little or no psychoactive potential, the species is the raw source of marijuana and its refined derivatives; cannabis cultivation in the United States-excepting the smallest amounts grown with a government license-has been illegal since 1937.

The greatest instance of hemp advocacy in eighteenth century North Carolina belongs to Governor William Tryon's administration. Tryon pitched the efficacies of the crop before the Assembly in 1760 and again two years later, resulting in a bill that was passed on 2 Dec. 1762. In 1766 the Assembly further passed an "Act for Establishing Public Warehouses in the Towns of Halifax and Campbleton, for the Inspection of Hemp and Flax." These warehouses were to be supplied with bonded inspectors and equipment for weighing and compressing the fiber for exportation. It was directed that they be open from 1 November to 1 January and again from 1 March to 1 May. The inspectors were to label the various batches by point of origin, mark them as dew-retted (or soaked) or water-retted, and issue certificates. There were severe penalties for counterfeiting certificates.

As commodities for export, hemp and flax went the unfortunate way of many other ill-fated colonial endeavors. Though the climate and soil were right for hemp culture, the logistics of transport were prohibitive, meaning that hemp never became a crucial commodity for export. A pandemic of drug use in the second half of the twentieth century brought the plant's cultivation back into favor; marijuana has become a persistent social and legal problem. In some of the more remote reaches of North Carolina, including the hill country, the traditional home of illegal distilleries, marijuana farming has largely replaced moonshining.


Jack Frazier, The Great American Hemp Industry (1991).

Additional Resources:

"Poisonous Plants of North Carolina," North Carolina State University, 1997:



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