Cannabis Growing and ‘Real’ Criminals: Planned Research Study

9 mins read

Want to share your knowledge and experiences – and help dispel some myths and stereotypes?

Dr Gary R. Potter, Lancaster University

It is probably a reasonable assumption that people who read ISMOKE have some knowledge – and perhaps even some experience – of growing cannabis, or at least know people who do. But they probably, and understandably, are careful about who they discuss this with. After all, cannabis cultivation is currently illegal in the UK. One of the arguments for keeping cannabis illegal has always been the link between drug markets and other types of crime. The counter argument, of course, is that it is the very fact of cannabis being illegal that creates the link between cannabis cultivation and other criminal activity. The vast majority of people who do grow cannabis are not involved in other types of crime. At the same time, it must be recognised that some people who grow cannabis do become involved (or were already involved) in other criminal activity.

A couple of years ago, October Films produced the documentary ‘Britain’s Booming Cannabis Business’ for the ITV ‘Exposure’ series (available on YouTube). This film explored the links between cannabis cultivation and ‘real’ crime, recognising that criminality (other than the mere fact of cultivation which, whether we like it or not, is currently a criminal offence in UK law) is not the norm amongst growers. The conclusion (predictable in the sense that most sensible people already know this, but unpredictable in that this was a documentary on mainstream, prime-time television) was that where organised crime, violence or other types of criminal behaviour do coexist with cannabis cultivation this is because of the system of prohibition: criminalising cannabis production and distribution leaves much of the market in the hands of criminals. Follow this link to read my full review for on the NORML-UK blog.

I was featured in the film as a talking head (in favour of legalisation, in case you are wondering), and served as a behind the scenes adviser as well. Now my colleague Dr Axel Klein (editor of the journal Drugs and Alcohol Today) and I (Dr Gary Potter, Lancaster University) are engaging in some academic research to further – and more thoroughly – explore some of the issues raised in the ‘Exposure’ film. Like the film, the focus of the research is on the divisions in the UK market between ‘cottage industry’ type growers and the involvement of serious or organised crime in some parts of the market, and we are particularly looking for growers with interesting stories to tell.

  • We are trying to access anyone who can illustrate some of the points touched upon in the documentary with their own personal experiences. While we are interested in anyone who is or has been involved in the growing/dealing world, we have a particular interest in:
    • growers being ‘used’ by middle-men/dealers (it would be interesting to see the different examples of threat or coercion used)
    • dealers using ‘co-ops’ or ‘franchises’ as a way of getting produce to sell (again anyone who can talk about using these business models and why they are doing so)
    • growers that are targeted by or are targeting rival growers
    • growers that have been approached by organised crime types because of their horticultural skills
    • growers that grow or dealers that deal a selection of different strains of cannabis and can discuss the different properties and how the connoisseur market has developed

If anybody is interested in participating, or wants further information, they can either contact Dr Gary Potter at Lancaster University (g.pot[email protected]) or Dr Axel Klein at Drugs and Alcohol Today ([email protected]).


We understand that people may be concerned about identifying themselves as people who are or have been engaged in what, rightly or wrongly, is currently a criminal offence in the UK. However, to help build the argument for changes in the law we need to gather information and opinions from those who are or have been involved in cannabis cultivation. Our project is governed by the rigorous ethical code of the British Society of Criminology and of our universities. We will not keep personal information that may identify you as an individual (such as names, addresses, email addresses, IP addresses etc) – where these appear in any correspondence, these will be deleted immediately. Non-identifying data – i.e. answers to interview or email questions – will be kept in anonymised form in password-protected, encrypted files. If you are particularly concerned about privacy, we recommend using an anonymising system such as TOR and/or using public rather than private computers (e.g. at a library or internet café) – or phone Dr Potter on 07752762288 (withholding your own number or using a phone that cannot be linked back to you if you prefer) to discuss other ways we can allay your concerns and ensure confidentiality and anonymity. If you do agree to meet us for an interview, this will take place at a time and location of your choosing – or can be conducted via telephone or email if you prefer not to meet face-to-face.

Gary Potter has published a number of academic papers on cannabis cultivation, with a particular focus on small-scale ‘ideologically’ motivated growers. He has written a book on cannabis cultivation in the UK (Weed, Need and Greed: a study of domestic cannabis cultivation), co-edited (with Tom Decorte, University of Ghent, Belgium, and Martin Bouchard, Simon Fraser University, Canada) a book on cannabis cultivation around the world (World Wide Weed: global trends in cannabis cultivation and its control), and co-edited (with Tom Decorte) a special edition of the International Journal of Drug Policy focusing on cannabis cultivation. He is firmly of the belief that small-scale cannabis cultivation should be legalised.

Axel Klein has long been interested in the ways that drugs are used and managed, or not, around the world. Currently, as editor of the journal Drugs and Alcohol Today he wants to emphasise non-problematic drug use and possible models of regulating drug markets. He has long advocated the legalisation of markets for cannabis, coca and khat and published books (Drugs and the World) and academic articles promoting these views. A curiosity in the way different drugs play important roles in different cultures has led him to conduct research in Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, where he has also become involved in policy debate and published award winning books (The Khat Controversy) with David Anderson, Susan Beckerleg and Degol Hailu and  (Caribbean Drugs) with Marcus Day and Anthony Harriott. He hopes that this research will contribute to the normalisation of cannabis in the UK.

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