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