How should the supply of cannabis be regulated?

By Sarah McCulloch

Most people in the cannabis law reform movement want cannabis to be legal to possess, use, sell, cultivate, and produce (some are simply satisfied with decriminalisation or medical use). How exactly that would be legislated is a completely different question that leads to considerable disunity.

Legal marijuana dispensary.

Legal marijuana dispensary in the USA.

There are now many models to choose from. We have the obvious Colorado model of regulating cannabis like alcohol. Or the Californian model of only allowing medical use but apparently defining “I need cannabis” as a medical need. Or the proposed Uruguayan model of making cannabis a legal state monopoly. Or the “serve it in restaurants” model of Cambodia. Or even the “not legislating the matter or apparently thinking about it, at all, ever” model of North Korea.

There are a number of options. It’s disappointing, therefore, when more activists than should simply suggest that everyone should grow their own cannabis, and everything will be fine. “We don’t need any other laws, as long as you can grow cannabis in your shed or garden, they’re fine”. Some activists even actively oppose any further legislation, on the grounds that any government interference will result in de facto criminalisation again, or the effective domination of the entire cannabis market by large corporate interests able to comply with strict controls, licensing permits costs, and so on.

I won’t deny there isn’t a risk of that. There are plenty of companies with factories supplying cannabis for medical and research purposes just waiting for new markets to open up (which is also a significant factor in our confidence that Prohibition will end soon). It will be tempting for the government to put unnecessary restrictions on personal growing in order to encourage people to buy it instead. They do this now with tobacco, and even eggs.

While the number of people who would grow their own cannabis would probably rise after the end of Prohibition, especially medical users who need a much higher quantity than most recreational users, it wouldn’t go up by much. Some people who grow now would grow more as well, as they wouldn’t have to worry about concealing their activities. But many won’t, and they shouldn’t have to.

The main reason that people shouldn’t have to grow their own cannabis is very simple: they don’t want to.

We live in a society which has divided up the labour of living more efficiently that any of us could manage on our own. We do not have to make our own clothes, grow or process our own food, or attempt to build or fix our own computers. I have no idea how the keyboard I am typing on is producing this text, but I don’t need to know. I can find out if I want to, I could make my own keyboard if I wanted to, but I’d much rather just buy one from a shop and be done with it.

I *could* grow cannabis. It’s relatively easy, if somewhat expensive to start up, the equipment is far more freely available than the legality of the activity would suggest, and there’s a huge community of people willing to give you all the advice you need. But one problem – I hate gardening. And at its heart, that is what cannabis cultivation is: growing plants. I don’t like growing plants. Other people grow plants, and I eat them. So why the opposition to people growing plants for other people to consume?

Skunk cannabis being grown under artificial lights in an indoor grow tent..

A cannabis grow tent, it’s not that hard to grow, but not practical for everybody.

Never mind the issue that many people use cannabis for profound disabilities, and may live very far from weed growers or collectives, and physically couldn’t grow if they wanted to. In such circumstances, it’s imperative that we have local, trusted, professional dispensaries. And those dispensaries need to be regulated like any other.

It’s an interesting question to consider what form a community formed around a plant in a world where its use was criminalised will take in a world where it isn’t. We talk about a “cannabis community” in a way that we don’t talk about an “LSD community” or a “ketamine community”. One might say that this is partly down to the fact that you do not need a degree in organic chemistry or a vet practice to produce your own cannabis, while extraordinary amounts of energy nonetheless need to be put into an activity that, being technically criminal, encourages people to seek the greatest value out of the effort they put in and the risk they take. After decriminalisation, people for whom cannabis is a hobby as well as a past-time will no doubt continue in the same way that the rabid snowdrop hobbyists of Britain continue to delightedly compare species and swap tips on their cultivation (3,000 people came together in Germany for a snowdrop conference in 2012). But two million people in Britain use cannabis and there aren’t two million members of the UK Cannabis Social Clubs. We have no reason to believe that there will be.

There are other reasons for properly regulating cannabis and not just leaving it to personal growers. Personal growers cannot keep up with the demand of casual recreational users, and at the moment, the criminal element of society has stepped in, with some pretty terrible results. For example, the issue of Vietnamese traffickers bringing over people, in many cases children, to Britain in order to lock them up inside cannabis farms located in residential areas is becoming increasingly well known. If cannabis farms were legal and subject to all of our current labour legislation, this would be a negligible issue. Many of the problems associated with cannabis farms, including the smell, the excessive use of electricity and antisocial behaviour, would end if cannabis farms were only treated like every other sort of farm. There would be no benefit to Vietnamese traffickers to take the risk of using human slave labour to produce cannabis if the black market was not the only way a consumer can access it.

This is an obvious and logical step. The harms of cannabis laws and the human cost far outweigh any negative effect of cannabis use itself. To protect the vulnerable, we have to regulate. And if you’ve ever bought anything from Weed World, and I imagine most of you have, then you have no riposte to the suggestion that maybe one day Weed World will sell weed as well.

Sarah McCulloch is a blogger, activist and NORML UK member. This article originally appeared in Weed World earlier this year, you can read more of Sarah’s blogs on her web site at or follow her on Twitter: @Grassonmydesk.

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  1. As long as it legal go along with anything
    I take for medical reasons but there is money in duties and or licence for British people I could pay for lots make everybody’s life easier whether you use or not .
    Its going to happen just a matter of time

  2. Cannabis isn’t the problem, prejudice is. Cannabis doesn’t need any more regulation than cucumbers. The only situation where some form of oversight is needed is when cannabis is being sold as having specific medicinal properties. In that case it is appropriate that there is some form of quality control to ensure patients needs are fulfilled. Apart from that, the cucumber model works for all, consumers, home growers, commercial growers and retailers. It allows taxation on sales as well as home grows for the green thumbs out there.

  3. The statement “everybody should grow their own cannabis” is arrogant. Why do I say that? It comes from the assumption that the person making the statement has the penultimate model of living and everyone else should emulate them. It’s silly. Not everyone has the same skill set. We all benefit from collectivism and the exchange of labor and skills. If you take even a slightly holistic view of things then you would recognize that while you might grow weed, there are lots of things you don’t do and rely upon others for. Either you grow your own food, build your own house, purify your own water, perform your own medical procedures, build your own transportation network and means to navigate it, or you aren’t really the pillar of libertarianism you think you are. Stop telling everyone they should be just like you and grow weed – it’s as myopic as prohibition.

  4. I would like home growing to become a similar status to home brewing. An age limit of 21 for recreational adult consumption due to the possible effects on developing brains. Advertising not permitted. Sales taxed depending on THC content and plain packaging with clearly marked strain, place of origin, production method (organic/hydro/outdoor etc.), strength and terpene profile displayed. I would like to see growers licensed (perhaps depending on lighting wattage or number of plants) with anything over a personal amount treated as a commercial operation which would trigger inspections and mandatory adherence to quality control for moulds and toxins and to make sure if it is being sold that the info the customer gets is accurate. I would like driving limits set to appropriate levels that it won’t unintentionally catch sober people. I’m open to other ideas though.

  5. I personally believe that the Revolution needs to be a Green Revolution. We replace the current banking systems and currencies in the world with Cannabis. We start a Co-Opperitive Bank of Hemp. Each person is able to grow their own needs and wants. We grow a crop and deposit it in the Bank of Hemp. Where it is graded as Medical Grade, Food Grade, Recreational Grade, Cosmetic Grade, Building Grade, Animal Feed Grade, Oil Grade, Resin Grade Etc. There are over 25,000 uses for Cannabis at present and with restrictions lifted more research would ensue and more uses would be found for this versitile plant. This Would take the power away from The Federal Reserve in the USA and from the Royal Mint in the UK. Cannabis is a consumable commodity and would be backed by itself. It stands on its own merit. Of course the ceiling price of Cannabis would come down and stabilise. Cannabis was once a cash crop valued in the USA and around the rest of the world, not that long ago. It’s a self sustaining plant that would eliminate the need of de-forestation. It can eradicate the wars for oil. The Pharmacuetical companies would have to revert back to the tried and tested methods of Holistic Medicine. The Prison Industrial Complex would be held in check as thousands of people would no longer be deemed criminal simply because they have in their possession or sold a natural plant. This to me is a real and practical solution to break away from the tyrannical bloodline system that we are currently enslaved and subjected to. I’m open for discussion on this topic and would be as equally welcome for points of view as to why the Cannabis system could not work as well as points of view in favour. Free the Herbs and we free humanity.

  6. For those who advocate ‘as much regulation as on cucumbers’, hear me out. Is it really a good idea that a hypothetical ten year old could go to the local corner shop and leave with six ounces of Pakistani black hash or some Green Crack budder? Now imagine the Daily Mail headlines of ‘cannabis is poisoning our kids’. We’d be back to prohibition or some extremely strict regulation quicker than you could say ‘reefer madness’.

    What I propose for psychoactive cannabis is that 16 year olds would be able to purchase small amounts of weak bud (based on the Dutch system of alcohol regulation) or grow a plant, and anyone 18+ could either buy much larger quantities of any bud, hash and extracts/oils and/or grow their own based on very loosely enforced guidelines about plant/yield quantities. For medicinal users, age restrictions would not apply and their allowance for home growing would simply be whatever they were prescribed.

  7. Season’s Greetings from Canada! As an aside, after trying several times over this past year, I was finally successful with my transaction going through to buy two of your very cool “duff jars”!

    This is an excellent blog! Of course you don’t need a masters degree to grow your own cannabis plant or two – continually. However, the powers that be in Canada, has taken that privilege away for those that were supplied a MM card. Come March 31, 2014, tending one’s cannabis plants are no longer allowed since, it has been deemed unsafe! I really can’t imagine anyone purchasing through the post – particularly since three growers – a.k.a. “LP” or licensed producers have been granted the privileged. Meanwhile, other applicants have been denied for not meeting criteria in new legislation.

    Health Canada does not allow cannabis oil – the real Rick Simpson method, to be ingested – no siree! I guess we’re not allowed to get disease free plus we are deemed not capable of safely growing our personal plant two! Health Canada also states there is not enough scientific evidence to determine “marijuana’s” health benefits – yadda yadda – they’re in bed with both Monsanto and Big Pharma!

    Back to you! The percentage of people for cannabis in each of America and Canada is finally way beyond 50% which says, the transition with bringing cannabis into the mainstream should be a relatively easy group effort whereby the nay sayers. just need to be away – towards some research/education.

    Dispensaries are certainly the way to operate – with full edibles as part of the service. It is quite exciting for those south of Canada in terms of those many baby boomers whom inhaled, assisting with the industry!

    NORML_UK – a big congratulations for your leadership and big heart – particularly for those in need! Love your support for Marc, home town London Canada, however, not yet home on west coast!

  8. I think it is important for us to not only educate children properly and not a talk to frank style campaigns we have seen to ensure they understand that cannabis should never of been illegal but it was and here is what we know now. But to protect children from being able to purchase mind altering substances. Cannabis should be used responsibly by adults and not by children. This is a sensible approach so we will need a regulatory process of some kind. I think dispensaries will and should play a big role in this new proposed system in order to have a point at which it can be taxed. Yes we can all grow cannabis tax free but we should also ensure that taxation on cannabis is used to not only reverse the damage done from prohibition but also a new drug education system and of course centres to help addicts recovering from harder drugs such as opiates of all kinds.

    I will strongly oppose any regulation which puts big business in control of cannabis as is clear in tobacco and alcohol monopolies. This is not to say we cannot tax and keep children away from cannabis but this is not going to be taken over by big business. We have done too much hard work to allow this to happen.

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