A History of Hemp and Cannabis in Indiana 

click to enlarge Examples of hemp and cannabis grown and used in Indiana. - WILL MCCARTY
  • Examples of hemp and cannabis grown and used in Indiana.
  • Will McCarty

Hemp, believe it or not, has a longstanding history in Indiana. Hemp seemingly grows all over the world, and there isn't a way to pinpoint its exact origins. In the 1800s, hemp was brought to the states and was widely used for clothing and cloth home goods. In fact, hemp was so common that is wasn't particularly special to people (think of it as in the same manner you'd think of cotton today) and not much was written about the plant.

When fibers are removed from the plant, they were used to create many household items, like rope, wagon coverings, tents, and bags. The fibers are incredibly strong and durable, which made the material versatile. The pulp from the plant also produced many products, most notably paper.

In many smaller towns in Indiana, "Rope Walks" are still visible. Growers of hemp would stretch the material out along this walk for it to dry, and then put stretchers on either end of the walk to twist the hemp and make rope.

RELATED: Let's get Hemp-notized!

Cannabis, hemp's more exciting and controversial sister, has a strong originating foundation in Indiana and medicine. In the 1930s, Eli Lilly founded Conner Prairie. The farming portion of the land was used for — you guessed it — cannabis. A major cash crop, Lilly moved to use the substance medicinally and sold it over the counter with 23 different variations being sold. In those days, cannabis was prescribed for nearly everything — migraines, stomachaches, cramps, mental illness, the common cold, insomnia, epilepsy, addiction, and sexual issues.

As petroleum-based synthetic products gained popularity for being easier and cheaper to produce, hemp production began to slow. However, these petroleum products weren't yet able to be produced quickly, so during WWII, the government pushed farmers to grow more hemp, as it was a versatile money-maker and could be used in a variety of military products. In fact, Jasper County won an award for its efforts in hemp-growing during the war. Because of this newfound popularity with hemp and cannabis strains, Lilly had more room to grow and experiment with cannabis. Together with Parke-Davis (a pharmaceutical company acquired by Pfizer in 2000), Eli Lilly produced a new strain of cannabis called "Cannabis Americana," produced solely for medical endeavors.

After the war, negative stigma surrounding all Cannabis plants became commonplace, and in 1951, Congress passed the Boggs Act which set stricter punishments for the growing of hemp. Since then, many different laws and regulations have made it nearly impossible to produce hemp for industrial or medicinal purposes.


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