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.
“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 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.