ITV documentary argues for legalisation of cannabis

By Dr Gary Potter

I’m sure many NORML members and supporters would have seen the ITV1 documentary ‘Britain’s Booming Cannabis Business’ on Wednesday night (still available on the ITV player for those who missed it).

In a one-hour programme (well, 50 minutes sans adverts) a broad spectrum of growers – from hobbyists and social clubs up to organised crime – were covered, although the focus of the programme was very much on the rougher end of the scale: organised crime involvement in large-scale, commercial cultivation.

Of course there will be criticisms. The medical benefits of cannabis – and cultivation for medical purposes – are barely mentioned: but that was not the remit of this particular documentary. Further, it could be argued that the focus on criminal involvement in cultivating cannabis for profit might leave some observers with the impression that all cannabis growers are prone to involvement in dealing, or in other types of crime (and I’m sure some right-wing commentators will take it this way). But this would be somewhat unfair – there is clear recognition that criminality (other than the mere fact of cultivation which, whether we like it or not, does remain a criminal offence in UK law) is not the norm amongst growers. We hear early on that most growers are in it for personal use, and that cultivation for many is an ethical or ideological choice – enabling users to avoid the black-market, for example.

Screenshot from ITV documentary Exposure: Britain's Booming Cannabis Business presented by Conor Woodman.

ITV documentary – Exposure: Britain’s Booming Cannabis Business makes a strong case to end prohibition of cannabis in the UK.

“It is the hardened criminals who are the real threat” we are told, and the point (when we strip away some of the more sensationalist aspects which are only to be expected – this is ITV, after all) is a fair one. Most growers, of course, have no involvement with organised crime or even with selling their crops (other than, perhaps, to a few friends). But increasingly ‘real’ criminals are getting involved in cultivation – whether setting up their own grow-ops, or threatening, cajoling or otherwise coercing other growers to sell their crops, or (as highlighted later in the film) stealing (sometimes accompanied by violent force) crops from more innocently minded small-scale hobbyists and from rival criminal gangs alike. Clearly the involvement of real crime and real criminals in cannabis cultivation should be seen as a serious problem. For those who are pro-cannabis and in favour of the right to grow, it is this minority element that gives the rest a bad name. For the vast majority of people, pro- or anti-cannabis alike, violence and other serious, forms of crime are morally repugnant, full-stop.

There are many reasons for arguing for the legalisation of cannabis, but the one that this film draws out is the fact that prohibition of cannabis leads to the involvement of criminals in some parts of the market. To state that more clearly: it is the law itself that creates any link between cannabis cultivation and organised crime that does exist. This might not be the main legalisation argument for everyone reading this article, but it is an important part of the overall campaign. And the fact that a mainstream British TV channel (and this is ITV, remember) is making the argument for legalisation at all is significant.

Of course I’m going to be supportive – I’m in the film. But I’m interested to know what others think, so post comments below and start a debate. Oh, and my own personal highlight? The guy from ‘The Grow Home’ (about 13 minutes in) gives a great comic turn discussing tomato cultivation with our erstwhile investigative reporter, Conor Woodman. Because even discussing cannabis cultivation, at least in the context of retailing horticultural equipment, is potentially a crime. Well done that man!


Dr Gary Potter of London South Bank University (LSBU)

Dr Gary Potter

Dr Gary Potter is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at London South Bank University. He is the author of “Weed, Need and Greed: a study of domestic cannabis cultivation”, published by Free Association books, and co-editor (along with Tom Decorte and Martin Bouchard) of “World Wide Weed: global trends in cannabis cultivation and its control”, published by Ashgate.

Dr Potter will be introducing a talk by Doug Fine, US author of Too High To Fail at LSBU on Wednesday 12th November, 2013.

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13 Comments

  1. Many thanks. and well done to all who was on the Doc. ITV has taken a bold new step. its hard to talk about the subject due to the law in my proffession – and btw its “The Grow Home” not the grow room there a diffrent shop 😉 – Jay @ The Grow Home

  2. Ido not wish to get a criminal record as i would lose my job,though i have been growin 3 to 4 plants for 5 years now,i do not sell any of it we share it out amongst 6 of us who pay for the equipment food and electricity.

  3. It should also be noted what one criminal said: “At the end of the day, they might just legalize it tomorrow, & that would be the end of that… It’d put me out of work”

  4. how come a reporter finds it easier than the police to find the thugs that beat people over cannabis and have multiple grows. in stead the police arrest people trying to make there own life abit better growing a couple of plant not harming anyone

  5. I think the programme over exaggerates the link to organised crime. I’m sure in some larger cities there is involvement but I think for the most it’s people having small grows to smoke and a little bit to sell to improve their lives. Times are hard! These people are generally smokers and want to smoke quality weed and so started growing themselves. Prohibition makes them criminals. Personally I would rather the police focused on hard drugs that have proven links to organised crime like heroin and crack. Stoners don’t rob to feed their habit and don’t cause the problems that drinkers do. The police are wasting their resources having to tackle growers when they are experiencing major cuts. Many police don’t see weed as a problem. And one more point, if these growers are making a much as the programme claims then maybe it’s this cottage industry that’s keeping our economy going!!

  6. I dont want any extravagant grow setup. I just wish i could grow 2 dwarf plants on my bedroom window!! Just because they look nice, a great little project with a small reward at the end!

  7. Just watched the documentary and it is was quite good. Not sure I agree with all the findings but the best thing was they just presented the situation and then at the very end said the only way to solve the problems is to regulate. It was good that the notion of legalisation was introduced by one of the most frightening ‘bad guys’ and he admitted that it would put him out of business then police officers agreed with him.
    It will really help in changing the attitudes of the masses because it was not aimed at the cannabis community at all which is something groups like NORML can never do in anything they produce.

  8. does anyone know if I can get compensation for my door the police broke down the came to my house by mistake my house is num 14 they meant to go to 1a but when they broke my door they found 1 cannabis plant

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