Are All Cannabis Growers ‘Criminals’?

    Dr Gary Potter

    Help the UK arm of the Global Cannabis Cultivation Research Consortium challenge some stereotypes.

    Dr Gary Potter

    Senior Lecturer in Criminology, London South Bank University

    Member of the Global Cannabis Cultivation Research Consortium (GCCRC)

    Author of Weed, Need and Greed: A study of domestic cannabis cultivation

    Co-editor of World Wide Weed: Global trends in cannabis cultivation and its control

    Cannabis cultivation features regularly in the British media: as entertainment (Attack the Block, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Saving Grace being just three examples of successful British films with a cannabis cultivation theme), but more often as ‘news’. Stories about cannabis growing often focus on the alleged links between domestic cultivation, the apparent increased potency of a type of cannabis that the media (albeit erroneously) likes to call ‘skunk’, and supposed links to health problems such as schizophrenia. Alternatively they focus on possible links between cannabis growing and crime – including organised crime. Occasionally there is a human interest aspect, but mostly cannabis cultivators are portrayed as drug dealers and as criminals – evils to be confronted and punished by society. But just how accurate are these stereotypes?

    Consider two recent stories about cannabis growing in the UK. A headline in the local newspaper The Argus proclaimed “A Cannabis Factory in Every Street” in Brighton, suggesting organized networks of dealers supplied by a small army of growers across the city. Meanwhile The Guardian (amongst other outlets) reported “Couple who helped Kenyan village with cannabis profits jailed”: a sophisticated growing operation run by a couple in their 60s generated hundreds of thousands of pounds, the bulk of which was actually diverted to life-saving charitable causes. They face a total of six years in prison.

    As a Brighton resident and somebody who knows a bit about cannabis cultivation, I have no doubt there are a lot of people in my city (and, for that matter, most others) who grow or have grown marijuana. Whether all or even most of these are supplying organised “gangs” of dealers, as implied by the story, I doubt very much.  My own research in the UK (published in book form as Weed, Need and Greed) suggests that whilst some cannabis cultivation might be linked to some organised crime, the vast majority of those who grow cannabis are not. Indeed, many growers explicitly seek to avoid ‘real’ dealers and cultivate precisely so they and their friends can avoid contact with the criminal-run black market. Others are motivated by ideological or altruistic rather than financial concerns, such as the couple who sent their profits to Kenya or those who grow cannabis for others who find its medical properties invaluable for treating a range of debilitating conditions. In short, for most growers are motivated by an affiliation with the ideology of ‘weed’, or some kind of practical or altruistic ‘need’, rather than by financial ‘greed’.

    Are all cannabis growers criminals? Well yes, by strict definition: under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 cannabis growing is criminalised as both production and cultivation. Growing cannabis plants may also be evidence of possession, supply or intent to supply. However whether all cannabis growers are involved in other types of crime, or in organised drug distribution, or should be subject to criminal penalties are other questions. It seems obvious that laws and policies should be based on evidence rather than media-perpetuated stereotypes; that punishments, when crimes are committed, should be in proportion to harm done rather than excessive or draconian, and; that the decision by society to label an individual citizen ‘criminal’ should not be taken lightly.

    Policy makers need a better understanding of who actually grows cannabis in the UK, of how they do it, and of why they do it. This is why I along with Cameron Adams and Axel Klein of the University of Kent are looking for individuals who have grown cannabis in the UK to participate in a (strictly anonymous) online survey. We hope our research will help paint a picture of the realities of cannabis growing in the UK which will feed into future sensible policy making. What is more, we are working with colleagues across the world – the Global Cannabis Cultivation Research Consortium (the World Wide Weed research group) – to conduct similar surveys in a number of countries to see how cannabis cultivation manifests itself under different policy regimes.

    To find out more – and to participate in our research – click here. All survey responses are strictly anonymous, we do not ask for any personal data or contact details, and we do NOT record your IP address.


    • Sour Alien

      Cannabis growers, the ones who grow a few in their garden or in a tent indoors for personal use, are not criminals. If anything, they deprive criminals from money. They starve the black market, instead of paying dealers they give their money to hydroponic shops. This should be legally regulated and licensed, dare i say, encouraged. If everyone could grow their own at home a large chunk of criminals income will be deprived, and they will lose much clientèle. However, the law regarding cannabis is not associated with reducing harm. If everyone could grow this medicine at home for next to nothing, wouldnt that pose a threat to GWpharma who sell the worlds most expensive cannabis?

    • Paul Oakley

      I myself would much rather grow my own for personal use than buy from dealers, but am not preperd to do so until home cultivation is decrimalized, I work 2 jobs totaling around 60 hours a week and the last thing I want is the inconvenience of a morning police raid for the sake of a couple of plants. I already brake the law everytime I buy smoke or carry cannabis, but don’t see myself as a criminal at all I have never stolen or committed a violent crime, I am a hard working member of society that simply prefers cannabis to alcohol!

    • MR_Bimble

      Filled in & submitted – pity the questionnaire was obviously built by someone who knows nothing about the ethics of “Percy grows”. I’d rather go without than buy street weed!

    • Poco

      Showing the case of the couple who supposedly grows for charitable reasons is neither helpful or beneficial to those who would like to see a real change regarding cannabis. The fact that cannabis is involved in this case is actually irrelevant, this is because they could have committed any number of victimless crimes to acquire this money. This in itself is a crime regardless of the crime being carried out. In my opinion they sentence was both just and correct.I am certainly not anti cannabis cultivation, however the fact that cannabis is involved does not some how justify this as a just action.

      Also on the medical side of things, there is also a lot of fabrications and people crying wolf. Cannabis as a medicine is administered in much lower doses than is used recreationally for the majority of things it may be beneficial to. This is not to say that it is never administered in higher does because it is, however this tends to be more for chronic neuropathic pain. The truth I believe is that many people are claiming its medical use, when in fact it is recreational. That is not to say it does not provide some health benefits or relief of symptoms, it is saying those benefits could be achieved with a lower dose. I mention this because it is often interwoven between medical and recreational use, and in my opinion at least it should not be. They are distinctly different and the only real similarity is the substance being used. I also believe that this has an adverse effect of medical cannabis and its viability and validity in the UK.

      As for actual legalisation and regulation, well I am all for that especially given the likely hood of abuse of medical cannabis if it is restricted from those that wish to use it purely for recreational purposes. The factors for it far out weigh those against it, and the evidence is clear that it is less harmful than other readily available recreational drugs. This would have a major impact on the economy, crime and public health for the benefit. If I am honest it seems absolutely ridiculous that this should even need to be spoke about, it should be self evident to everyone one now that taking this measure is long overdue.

      Well that is my 2 cents :p