How the federal government eradicated wild cannabis plants

Published Nov 2, 2019 01:00 p.m. ET
iStock / Vera Tikhonova

There have been many remnants of World War II left behind for our discovery, and some may have forgotten the thickets of the marijuana plant that spring up each year throughout Northwestern Indiana. However, during the war, the government designated around 75,000 acres of land to the growing of hemp. Commonly known as ditch-weed today, these plants were part of the production of parachute cords and used as an aid to support the war effort.

An Indiana State Police spokesperson believed that the eradication of weed was futile, an impossible task. He compared the weed to dandelions, a wild territorial species that is found everywhere in the world. Ditch weed as this wild weed plant is known, has very low levels of THC, the known psychoactive ingredient in marijuana that provides the high experience.

Today New York City's reputation as a liberal city, one of the most progressive in the States, is not reflective of how the weed plant grew wild, decades ago. New York City began to address wild cannabis back in the 1930's. It was not growing just in the colonizer’s fields but also in abandoned yards and ditches.

The eradication process of ditch-weed had help from the Sanitation Department

In 1951 a division of the Department of Sanitation known as the White Wing Squad destroyed 41,000 pounds of marijuana, and later that year, the Sanitation Department claimed to destroy an additional six million dollars’ worth of marijuana plants. The plants have been known to grow up to ten feet high, which made them easy to spot, and this force was on a mission to eradicate the species.

Since the fifties, the marijuana plant’s eradication has been the responsibility of the police forces and local officials. We need to remember that the marijuana plant is a wild plant. A human did not invent the marijuana plant. Yes, the human has altered the structure of the weed plant today, but it is a wild plant. Wild plants can grow anywhere if the circumstances are correct.


Ditch weed is a variety of the hemp plant. The plant grows tall and provides a rich fiber content which has multiple uses today. The buds hold the seeds which are distributed by birds and other animals. Interestingly each seed can remain dormant for up to ten years.

There are no psychoactive effects noted from the consumption of the Ditch Weed. However, a soothing feeling may be delivered. To date, the U.S.A.  has spent large sums of money in the effort to eradicate this wild weed we call cannabis today.

As the amazingly useful hemp plant is no longer illegal in the states, there is a race to discover the best strains for particular regions. However, some believe that these strains have been in existence for generations. We know them as a form of ditch-weed, which has evolved over time into the product that we all consume today.

The passing of the federal 2018 Farm Bill saw the legalization of hemp and classified it as an agricultural crop. A university grant has provided the funds to support the study of these wild weeds. The funding will provide aid in searching out the now perhaps, elusive, native weed plant. Samples will be taken of plants that are located. They will be planted and studied at the university. One of the aspects of the study will be to test the THC levels. Legally all industrial hemp that is grown in states in America, like Illinois, must contain no more than levels of 0.3% THC.

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