It turns out cannabis ruderalis - or, in the common parlance, wild weed - grows more commonly than we think, and not just in California and other states stereotypically associated with cannabis cultivation. "Although uncommon in the modern western world, it is not all that unusual to find the cannabis plant thriving in some untended corner of a lot, along country roadsides, or reaching for the sun in competition with other wild plants on a mountainside," according to Glenn Panik, author of “How To Grow Cannabis At Home: A Guide To Indoor Medical Marijuana Growing.” It makes sense: after all, industrial hemp was widely cultivated across the midwest for much of America's history up to the 1930s.
Entire books have been written on the subject of foraging in the wild for cannabis ruderalis, which some say can be found growing across Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Indiana, and Minnesota. In Nebraska, in particular, "wild, or 'landrace' strains of hemp continue to flourish beautifully," according to the blog Toke of the Town. Manage your expectations, though: whatever you find isn't going to actually get you high, in all likelihood, but rather be more of a take-a-picture-and-feel-proud-of-yourself thing.
Credit goes to expert forager Glenn Panik for these tips:
1. Look for variety
Some wild cannabis species are dandelion-height, others taller than you are: a quick Google image search for “cannabis leaves” allows you to appreciate some of that diversity. Sativas tend to have long, thin leaves, while broad, fat, stinging-nettle like leaves are more indicative of an indica.
2. Look in the right places
Cannabis ruderalis likes sunny spots where the soil abuts manmade objects: abandoned construction sites and urban footpaths are "prime territory," according to Panik, adding that it's "unusual to find wild marijuana in rich, moist soil" because it's displaced by faster-growing plants.
3. Respect the plant
Anyone who has ever tried to grow marijuana can appreciate how it can be difficult - and how long it takes these plants to flower. If you do find a plant, take a second to appreciate its fortitude in surviving deer, humans, and uprooting: take a picture, or a tiny sample (it's not like it's going to get you insanely high, anyway), or some seeds. Never uproot it.
4. Be cautious
Newsflash: some people might be illegally cultivating marijuana.
"If you’re on a hike deep into the countryside and find several large, healthy plants, they are probably not wild plants," writes Panik, and "you run the chance up bumping into their large, healthy caretakers, who are probably not keen on foraging, picture-taking visitors."
Use your common sense - happy hunting!