Beginning in June 1989, newspaper headlines blaring the phrase “Cornbread mafia” ran from coast-to-coast and around the globe — all to describe a network of 70 outlaw Kentucky farmers busted on a network of 30 farms stretching across 10 midwestern states with what law enforcement claimed was 200 tons of marijuana. These Kentucky men, mostly from Marion County, stunned federal drug enforcement officials, who never dreamed that a domestic marijuana syndicate could grow to such a size. In fact, members of federal task force called it the biggest marijuana bust in the history of the United States.
Before Cornbread, the DEA assumed that the vast majority of American pot was smuggled in from Latin America or Asia. Little did they know, the most ideal conditions for growing cannabis was the Kentucky Bluegrass region, starting with Marion County.
Many members of the Cornbread Mafia were Vietnam veterans. They learned that Kentucky was the best place to grow cannabis because it sits on the 37th parallel, the same latitude line that runs through the Hindu Kush mountains, where indica cannabis strains originated. This means that hemp plants feel right at home in Kentucky.
They came home from Vietnam and began planting outdoor marijuana crops. With a growing number of marijuana plants, they created one of the largest illegal cannabis operations in modern times
For decades, no one spoke about the group known as the Cornbread Mafia. They honored a code of silence and went to prison instead of cooperating in exchange for a lesser sentence, all 70 of them. Without a witness to point the finger at the alleged kingpins, federal prosecutors were stuck at a dead end. Without a case good enough for court, they were forced to hold a press conference in June 1989, where they laid out their case against these men without giving anyone a chance to defend themselve
In 2005, James Higdon, a native of Marion County, Kentucky, began his project to write the true story of the Cornbread Mafia. He left New York and returned home to Kentucky to do the work. In the course of his reporting, he became the first journalist subpoenaed by the Obama administration because of his reporting.
Higdon’s book, The Cornbread Mafia: A Homegrown Syndicate’s Code Of Silence And The Biggest Marijuana Bust In American History, was published in hardcover in 2012, in paperback in 2013, and released as a second edition in 2019. Higdon’s reporting on the Cornbread Mafia was featured in High Times in the summer of 2012.
Since the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, hemp has been legalized at the federal level, allowing Kentucky to regain its title as the home of the finest hemp on Earth.
Cornbread Hemp embraces all 250 years of Kentucky cannabis history as the best place to grow hemp in the United States. Grown exclusively by Kentucky farmers, then distilled for purity. That’s why we know that Kentucky grows the best hemp in the United States. And that’s why you’ll always know when it’s Cornbread.
Author & Co-Founder
After the publication of Jim Higdon’s book, The Cornbread Mafia, President Barack Obama granted clemency to three men from Marion County, Kentucky, who were all connected in some way to the Cornbread Mafia.
As part of his work to reform the criminal justice system, President Obama granted clemency to more than 1,900 people — the most since President Truman. Among Obama’s 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations, were three men connected to the alleged Cornbread Mafia.
In November 2011, President Obama granted a pardon to a Marion County man who was caught driving a get-away car in October 1987 with six other men fleeing a marijuana farm in Minnesota. That farm contained 90 tons of marijuana, according to the police.
In March 2015, President Obama commuted the prison sentences of 22 drug offenders, including a Marion County marijuana cultivator serving a life sentence for growing nearly 19,000 marijuana plants. It had been his third strike, which gave him a sentence of life without parole — an insane outcome caused by the War on Drugs — until President Obama granted him clemency.
In December 2016, President Obama granted clemency to another 231 people, including a third Marion County man who was arrested as a college student in the late 1990s. He had been part of a drug trafficking ring operated by his father. In 2000, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison, just two months shy of his pre-med degree. The Drug War ruined this man’s life, but President Obama gave him back what was left of it.
For much of the 1980s, Steve Lowery, editor of the Lebanon Enterprise, reported on the Cornbread Mafia and took many amazing black-and-white photographs of police busts of illegal cannabis plants. The black-and-white photos on this page are Lowery’s photographs from the Enterprise though that period.
Even before Jim Higdon’s book came out, “Cornbread Mafia” had become associated in popular culture with southern-style organized crime. The “Cornbread Mafia” was mentioned on the TV series Justified, which centers around a US Marshal stationed in Kentucky. The creator of Justified said in a 2015 interview about how he started researching the world of southern crime: ”Honestly, we didn’t know a lot about the Dixie Mafia. It also goes by the name The Cornbread Mafia. But we started poking around.”
Jim Higdon wrote the narrative nonfiction book on The Cornbread Mafia. Based on the success of that book, he became a journalist covering hemp and cannabis for national publications. While covering the 2018 Farm Bill for POLITICO, he discovered his opportunity to enter the CBD industry by co-founding Cornbread Hemp with his cousin and Cornbread Hemp CEO, Eric Zipperle.
Together, Higdon and Zipperle have built Cornbread Hemp as this generation’s response to the Cornbread Mafia of the past. By removing the “mafia” and replacing it with legal hemp, Cornbread Hemp has turned the page on history. By offering USDA certified organic CBD products made from Kentucky-grown hemp, Cornbread Hemp continues the tradition of excellence of the Cornbread Mafia that bridged the gap between Kentucky’s hemp history and the legal hemp market of today.
We get this question a lot. The answer is yes, eventually. These things take time, and this project to turn Cornbread Mafia into a film or TV series has taken longer than expected.
Although not related to Cornbread Hemp in any way, a Cornbread Mafia TV series is a likely outcome of a long process that began when the Cornbread Mafia book was published.
We launched Cornbread Hemp with a commitment to sell the highest quality hemp wellness products available. Grown by Kentucky’s most experienced hemp farmers, Cornbread Hemp produces the finest full spectrum hemp products available. Our entire selection contains .3% THC, a key component for the most powerful “entourage effect.”
We’re confident you’ll notice the quality of Cornbread Hemp products after one try. Shop now!