Unlike the English, French did not need to import hemp. They wanted to import it in order to sell it afterwards to other countries and make profit out of it. For instance, the earliest record of hemp plants discovered in France goes back to around 200 B.C., when the Greeks brought hemp from the Rhone Valley to outfit their ships. The manufacture of French fabrics made from hemp is almost as ancient.
The export of hemp abroad began around the fifteenth century. By the sixteenth century, France was said to possess "two magnets" which attracted the wealth of Europe.
One of these was wheat. The other was hemp.
The yearly exports to England alone between 1686 and 1688 were over two million pounds. It was not without reason that the English complained so bitterly about the draining of their economy as a result of their imports of hemp from France.
"This most prosperous kingdom" declared the chancellor of France in 1484, "has a great number of provinces which, because of the beauty of the countryside, of the fertility of the soil, of the health-giving air, easily surpasses all the countries of earth."'" To take advantage of these bountiful assets, French workers were continually urged to work harder to produce wool, flax, and especially hemp.
Ironically, despite the abundance of hemp, French merchants still imported large quantities of fiber from countries such as Italy and Sweden. The reason was that French merchants were able to make greater profits selling hemp abroad than they could possibly earn by manufacturing it and selling it domestically. Thus, while France sold enormous amounts of hemp to countries like England and Spain, France imported large quantities from other European countries. Consequently, when French merchants heard that hemp was growing wild in the New World, they sensed an opportunity for enormous profits.
After the first disappointments subsided, the French thought they could still make a profit in hemp if they could simply persuade the colonists who were settling in New France to cultivate cannabis as a crop. To this end, Samuel Champlain, the great explorer and colonizer,
brought hemp seeds with him on his early expeditions to New France.
By 1606, hemp was growing in Port Royal in Nova Scotia under the watchful eye of the colony's botanist and apothecary, Louis Hébert.
However, like their counterparts in the British colonies, the early French settlers were faced with an acute labor shortage and the pioneers had trouble just trying to grow enough food to stay alive. For anyone to spend time clearing land to grow hemp would mean time lost growing food. To deal with such obstinance, Jean Talon, the finance minister of the Quebec colony, confiscated all the thread in the colony and declared he would sell it only in return for hemp.
At the same time, he gave free hemp seed to farmers with the understanding that they were to plant it immediately and replace the gift with seed from their next year's crop. Since their children had to be clothed, the women either persuaded their husbands to raise hemp or they bought it themselves and used it to barter with Talon.
In this way, Talon created a demand for hemp and an industry to supply that demand.
In the meantime, relations between France and England were rapidly deteriorating and eventually the two countries went to war. The French proved to be no match for the English, and in 1763 all of New France became an English domain. Almost immediately, England tried to promote hemp production in her new colony. When her initial treaties failed, the new governor of Québec was told not to grant any land to any settler unless he promised to raise hemp on his new holdings. It was to no avail. Despite these efforts, England received only token amounts of hemp from the colonists in Canada.
After the American Revolution and the loss of her colonies to the south, England redoubled her efforts to promote hemp production in Canada. In 1790, 2000 bushels of Russian hemp seed were brought to Québec and were distributed free to all the agricultural districts of the province.
Only fifteen farmers showed any interest.
This article contains info from “Marihuana The First Twelve Thousand Years”, by Ernest L. Abel