Indiana has had a rough past few years despite a strong start in the hemp and cannabinoid industry. After a pandemic, a smokable flower ban in 2019, and two attempts to ban delta-8 THC, business owners feel defeated, isolated, and hesitant to talk about cannabinoid legislation for fear of inciting bans on popular products including delta-8, which remains unregulated in the state.

In response, Indiana cannabinoid businesses and advocacy organizations are getting creative—showing up at the statehouse and bringing immersive educational experiences to those who want to learn more. Indiana businesses show how they can support each other through cooperation and networking to create a path to a strong cannabinoid culture and economy, unlike any other state, in true Hoosier fashion.

Indiana Businesses Roll With the Punches

In 2021, after two years of litigation, H.B. 1124, which sought to retract the ban on smokeable hemp flower in Indiana, died in the statehouse In the same session, a bill to criminalize delta-8 was blocked—a win for many Indiana cannabinoid businesses that thrive on delta-8 sales, a retail industry that exceeded $10 million in sales in 2020, according to New Frontier Data.

Business owners say that the back-and-forth struggle to keep cannabinoid businesses afloat in the state is exhausting. Minority businesses, especially, are scared to talk about legislation, fearing retaliation if they speak out.

“It’s difficult to have a conversation about cannabinoids because everyone is super secretive about it,” says LeShauna Carr-Kennedy, co-founder and owner of Dr. Blunt CBD + Apothecary. If Indiana doesn’t take steps forward, she’ll have to consider moving her business. “I’m doing research and data-gathering for myself to know what lies ahead of us. What obstacles will there be? We can’t say what Indiana will do. We’ve seen so many different bills on the table that have been shut down. If we don’t legalize [cannabis] in five years, I’ll be leaving. It just stunts our growth.”

An attempt to ban delta-8 in Indiana came after an article about an Indiana University student who allegedly attempted to rape a female resident assistant. The young man cited his recent consumption of delta-8 gummy bears for his behavior.

“That’s another reason why a lot of people don’t want to talk. They don’t want to say the wrong thing because one misquote or improper usage of verbiage could completely bring down the entire industry,” says Michelle Lennis, executive director and co-founder of the Indiana Cannabinoid Alliance (IAC).

Chris Barclay is co-founder of the IAC and co-founder of a local cannabinoid business, Indy CBD+. He says it’s difficult to understand how hard it’s been unless you’re in the industry.

“I can’t talk about any of this stuff with my friends because they have no idea what it’s like to lose merchant services four times in four years of being open in business,” he says. “They don’t know that you can’t go to a bank and just get a bank account, that you have to beg a credit union. I was hoping that with the Indiana Cannabinoid Alliance, more business owners would get together, and we’d be bouncing stuff off each other instead of looking at each other like, ‘Oh, well, this is my block, or I run the south side,’ or whatever.”

Advocates Get Creative With Memorable Cannabinoid Education

Getting people to understand is an uphill battle, especially with policymakers, says Marguerite Bolt, Hemp Extension Specialist in the Department of Agronomy at Purdue. She says that people are delivering quality education, but many legislators don’t make an effort to engage.

“There’s little willingness of some legislators to listen or go out of their way to learn,” Bolt says. “The biggest challenge I’ve seen is being able to reach the people who need to be reached and have them want to take the time to be educated.”


To get in front of legislators effectively, Bolt and a group of Purdue food science undergraduates created their recipe for hemp muffins and took them to the statehouse. They wanted to deliver a dose of education that lawmakers would remember. It worked, but the conversation about the positive benefits of the cannabinoid industry seems to be one-sided.

A full 81% of Hoosiers want some level of cannabis legalization, according to a 2018 survey by Bowen Center for Public Affairs and Old National Bank. If legislators are serious about learning what constituents want, Bolt suggests they take a trip to their local CBD store.

“It presents an opportunity for education if they’re willing to step into that store,” she says.

Lennis and Barclay co-founded the IAC in response to the smokable hemp ban in 2019, hoping that coordinated education efforts and engagement would shift the tide of legislation. “We kept coming back to this conversation that there’s little collaboration and little communication, specifically in the cannabinoid industry in Indiana,” Lennis says. “The alliance’s focus is to create that community between businesses who are cannabinoid centric. The secondary aspect is to promote the industry. Out of that, we hope to effect a legislative change.”

Like Bolt, the IAC knows that they need to be creative with how they deliver cannabinoid education. In 2022, they hosted an “Edibles 101” course and a euchre tournament sponsored by local cannabinoid retailers. In 2021, they hosted a memorable event: a five-course plated dinner infused with cannabinoids prepared by chef Erin Kem of Scarlet Lane called “A Farmers Market Spectrum of Cannabinoids.” The event sold out.

“Our goal was to show that people can have an evening, consume, and still be capable of functioning for the rest of their day. We want to do events like that to break the negative stigma here in the state and provide better delivery,” Lennis explains. 

Engagement looks slightly different for business owners who struggle to remain competitive in a saturated market. Carr-Kennedy is a Black woman, and she says that having a voice at all in the industry is challenging. Still, she knows being a part of the conversation is essential to her success and the growth of cannabis in Indiana, which means networking with others.

She attends local and regional conferences, and, in May, she’ll be at Grapevine with many other CBD businesses and Indy artists. Grapevine is part of Indianapolis’s First Friday artist events and is a platform for local hip-hop and Black-owned businesses.

“Grapevine offers a lot of CBD products,” Carr-Kennedy says. “It’s the artist community, and they are consumers. It’s a huge event, a great event, and I think it’s a good place to start the conversation if I’m going to discuss or work with any other CBD vendors; that’s where I do it.. It’s a market where they aren’t afraid to talk about it. In the black community, there’s a lot of fear to talk about it, but I think we definitely need to have the conversations.”

She’s not stopping there. Carr-Kennedy hopes to organize with other CBD businesses to talk to Indiana State Representatives. “I want to put full some of the names that I know together and go directly to the source and say, ‘Hey, you know, we elected you, so what are you going to do? How are you planning to help push this through? Don’t just come and advertise us for the Black vote, and then we don’t see you.’ We see a lot of that.”

Justin Swanson, president of the Midwest Hemp Council and chair of Bose, McKinney, and Evans’ Cannabis practice group, says Carr-Kennedy’s approach is precisely what the state needs.

“We need more involvement from the businesses. It’s not just getting involved, but when there’s a ban on the table, it’s putting in the work outside of session, inviting the legislators to your retail shop or your farm, and helping them understand where you fit into the supply chain,” Swanson explains. “When you make those connections, that’s when you can really become a source of information for your legislators.”

Cannabinoids are Building Up Indiana’s Local Economy

Another strategy that Indiana businesses are taking is showing how impactful cannabinoid businesses are to the local and state economies. Indiana is called the Crossroads of America for a good reason. Logistically, Swanson says, Indiana is a prime location for cannabinoid distribution. Within a day’s drive from Indiana, 80% of the population of the U.S. and Canada can be reached, according to a 2020 Bloomberg Logistics report. There are more intersecting highways than in any other state, and it’s also the second-largest FedEx air hub in the world.

Adam Kline, co-founder of the vertically integrated cannabinoid-infused beverage brand, Floral. says the state must also foster an if-you-build-it-they-will-come mentality. What his team lacked in their east-central Indiana county, they built to keep their production and processing local. Most of their hemp is grown between three farms in Indiana. In 2019, they built a drying facility in Boone County; they also have a processing and canning facility in Grant County.

“Case trays or other ancillary advertising or promotional items, we try to work locally; our shirts, everything’s made locally. Healthier infrastructure for Indiana is good for everybody,” he explains.

Their goal is twofold: to create a local infrastructure and help grow the local economy. “The community has continued to lose people year in and year out with every census. Rather than site closer to Indianapolis, we saw this as an opportunity to create high tech ag jobs in East Central Indiana,” says Kline. With more progressive laws, they could tap that potential even further, he hopes. “But that’s kind of beyond the scope we’re able to play within today’s legislative environment.”


“I think Indiana is going to have a really unique approach to cannabis regulation.

It is coming, Indiana; it’s just a matter of when.”

Justin Swanson, president of the Midwest Hemp Council


Kline isn’t immune to the challenges of running a cannabinoid-centric business.

“It’s a new challenge every week,” he says. “When I went into this, I didn’t think that we would have Covid and deal with that for two years. I didn’t think that every legislative session would face new challenges from this prosecutor’s office or state police for a federally compliant product. Defending ourselves to continue conducting business with a federally compliant product is tough, and it does drain some of our resources.” .Still, he’s hopeful because it’s clear that consumers in Indiana want Floral products. “I think that folks are genuinely curious about the product. Above all else, we figured out the efficacy before figuring out the taste. The product works well; it’s tastefully designed. I think that’s a large part of why many folks have ordered from us.”

Bolt agrees that supporting cannabinoid businesses is beneficial to local economies. “By bringing more businesses to these different cities, you’re providing more options for consumers. They don’t have to go online and look for these things,” she explains. “They can support a local farmer or local business, which is important to a lot of people.”

Local business also means being price-competitive with shipping costs, as well as creating more hemp farms in the area and more education opportunities. 

“Because agribusinesses work with machine dealers, they work with co-ops to get fertilizer and resources,” Bolt says. “So, it’s kind of like this ripple effect.” In fact, she is in talks with an Indiana mayor who wants to bring hemp businesses to their county to boost the local economy. “There are definitely people like that who are making really important decisions and seeking out the right information.”

What’s the Future of Cannabinoids in Indiana?

Swanson says ups and downs are the norm in the cannabis and cannabinoid industry, but he’s very optimistic. Legislators are getting younger and more bills supporting cannabinoids are filed every year.

“At the end of the day, if you look at the data, this really is a generational gap in leadership, right? You have the folks 65-70 years old, plus, who grew up on the ‘war on drugs’ and ‘Just Say No.’ Those folks, especially in our Senate, are tough to change. But luckily, you have turnover. Every new person is an opportunity for education on the consumer benefits and economic impact,” he says.

Swanson also points out that 2023 is a budget year, and that setting up an effective cannabis program costs money. “I think we had 13 bills filed during the 2022 session for some form of cannabis regulation; that was a record number,” Swanson says, and they anticipate that much or more for the 2023 session.

Even though a news article initiated the proposal to ban delta-8, Swanson says it was the impetus for a meaningful overall conversation.

“Reading the news article on the Senate floor and comparing it to fentanyl and other super dangerous drugs, it’s not helpful,” he says. “But it also kicks everybody into gear in the industry to say we’re not done educating folks. This is going to be an ongoing education process every single year.”

As the cannabinoid market evolves, he says, new products will hit shelves, and there will be a constant need for education to make sure those products are safe.

Economically, Indiana is carving out a hemp and cannabinoid industry space. Swanson points out that Indiana attracted HempRise to build a new $80-million hemp processing facility in Jeffersonville. “If you’re operating in the cannabis industry, you’ll have some footprint in Indiana. At the end of the day, Indiana is a logistics supply chain hub,” he says.

It’s also about finding what fits Indiana; for better or worse, Indiana will pave its own path toward cannabis.

“I think Indiana is going to have a really unique approach to cannabis regulation. It is coming, Indiana; it’s just a matter of when. I think it’s going to turn heads in terms of the thoughtfulness of taking into account what works in some states, what doesn’t, and then cherry-picking from there,” says Swanson. “I’m excited about it. I’m not saying it’ll happen next year, but I feel the momentum shifting towards having these conversations.”

The past few years have been difficult in Indiana, but businesses are moving in a promising direction, leveraging networks and hosting creative conversations within the cannabinoid community and legislators. After all, Kline says, “A healthier infrastructure in the state of Indiana is good for everybody.”