With the Russian invasion of Ukraine raging on, and its subsequent disruptions to global supply-chains wreaking havoc on the cannabis industry, an investigation into the region’s history with cannabis and the war’s effects on the industry is crucial.
Cannabis has long played a pivotal role within eastern Europe. Contemporary anthropological research has found that cannabis was likely introduced into southeast Russia and Ukraine by the Scythians, an ancient group of nomadic warriors from modern day Siberia, as early as 3000 BC. Since then, cannabis has been an indispensable part of Ukrainian and Russian agriculture, providing food, clothing, medicine, textiles, and fuel.
The versatility of cannabis, when used for industrial purposes, made it a critical commodity crop and export of the Russian Tsardom since the beginning of its mass production in the 16th century. Hemp exports remained small until the 18th century, when Great Britain began solely utilizing Russian hemp for its naval rigging. Throughout the 18th century, the percentage of Russian hemp utilized for Britain’s navy soared to 96% while total hemp exports soared to 32,000 tons.
However, with the explosion of American cotton production in the 19th century, Britain switched from hemp to cotton, leading Russia’s exports to decline. Despite this, the Russian empire remained the largest exporter of hemp, accounting for 50-75% of its total exports. By the end of the century, the Russian empire produced 140,000 tons of hemp annually, accounting for 40% of Europe’s hemp production.
This would remain the case after the Russian Revolution, and the Soviet Union’s rapid industrialization. During Ukraine’s period within the Soviet Union, it was one of the largest hemp manufacturers in the world. Between 1950 and 1960, Ukrainian hemp production increased over six-fold, rising from 15.3 hectares of cultivated land to 97.4 hectares. However, after the 1961 UN convention listed cannabis as a narcotic substance, hemp production began to decline. By 1970, land devoted to hemp cultivation dropped by 33%. By 1990, only 10 hectares remained.
Since then, hemp cultivation has continued to decrease every year. This is due to a litany of factors including an insufficient number of processing plants, the remoteness of those plants from hemp producers, complex regulatory policy, and the instability of prices for hemp products.
Part 2, ‘The Legalization of Cannabis in Ukraine‘
Part 3, ‘Russian Invasion of Ukraine‘