By Dr Gary Potter
“The traditional view of a global cannabis market consisting of production in developing countries for export to consumers in the developed world is increasingly outdated… With the advent of indoor cultivation techniques and the wide dissemination of both technical expertise and growing technologies, cannabis is now produced on a significant level across most of the industrialised world.”
Most NORML members and supporters already know this, especially those that have, um, ‘observed’ the UK cannabis scene for an extended period of time: increasingly the UK grows rather than imports the cannabis that it consumes. Unfortunately, because cannabis remains illegal, a lot of cannabis growing in the UK is in the hands of unpleasant types and even ‘organised crime’ (see, for example, the ITV documentary ‘Britain’s Booming Cannabis Business, discussed on the NORML blog here).
But these people are by no means representative of all those who grow cannabis.
Many of you reading this will know people who grow cannabis for their own use – a number of you, no doubt, will have grown cannabis yourselves. And, of course, it is often the case that those people who grow cannabis also get involved in some distribution of their produce as well – at the very least, it would be rude not to share with friends and loved ones, and downright cruel to refuse those who use cannabis medicinally! But under the increasingly-arcane Misuse of Drugs Act supplying cannabis to friends (known as ‘social supply’ in the academic literature) is the same criminal offence as large-scale organised-crime type drug dealing.
Of course, the vast majority of people growing cannabis are, aside from that particular outlawed activity, no more criminally minded than the majority of the population. But those who make and enforce the law often seem to assume otherwise – policy around cannabis cultivation is, as ever, based on misplaced assumptions and negative stereotypes rather than facts – and this is true (to a greater or lesser extent) not just in the UK but around the world. With this in mind, the Global Cannabis Cultivation Research Consortium (GCCRC) conducted the largest ever survey of cannabis growers around the world, with 6,530 respondents across eleven industrialised countries in Europe, North-America and Australasia. The survey investigated growers’ methods and motivations as well as their demographic details and their involvement (or, more notably, lack of involvement) in drug dealing or in crimes other than those related to growing or using cannabis. The quote above is taken from the introduction of an article called “Global patterns of domestic cannabis cultivation: Sample characteristics and patterns of growing across eleven countries” which summarise the main findings from the GCCRC survey, and which concludes with this statement:
“Significantly, there should be no assumption that most small-scale cannabis growers are criminally or socially deviant: instead, most tend to come from more-or-less normal socio-economic backgrounds with minimal involvement in drug dealing (as opposed to social supply) or other types of crime. Indeed, a commonly-cited reason for growing cannabis is actually to avoid involvement with criminals (in the form of traditional dealers and the black-market). Equally, it should not be assumed that involvement in cannabis cultivation comes about from a desire to make money (although saving money may be an important factor).”
The article is published in the March issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy, which is a special edition dedicated to Domestic Cannabis Cultivation – there are six other papers in the same edition that draw on the GCCRC survey (including one that specifically focuses on cultivation for medicinal use). Unfortunately only those who subscribe to the journal have free access to all of the articles (try your local university library or a friendly student who may have online access), but the “Global patterns of domestic cannabis cultivation” article quoted here is available for free, as is the editorial for the edition as a whole.
A number of NORML members took part in the UK branch of the GCCRC survey – a huge thank you has to go out to all of you. Some of the findings from the research are very interesting; some of them will seem very obvious to those who grow, or have grown, or know people that grow cannabis. But it is nice to be able to provide hard data to feed into the policy debate. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee that the powers that be will listen, but at least we can contribute to better-informed discussion.
Dr Gary Potter co-edited the March 2015 special edition of the International Journal of Drug Policy on ‘Domestic Cannabis Cultivation’ with Prof. Tom Decorte from the University of Ghent, Belgium. He is also 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.
If you are interested in participating in future research into cannabis cultivation – we hope to conduct interviews with cannabis growers for the next stage of the research – or have any questions, queries or comments relating to the work of the GCCRC then please email Dr Potter on firstname.lastname@example.org.