The trend toward marijuana smokers growing their own pot in Great Britain has reached critical mass, the British newspaper the Independent reported this week. "Most of the cannabis consumed in Britain is now produced domestically," the newspaper concluded while conceding that because of the clandestine nature of marijuana grows no one really knows for sure.
The "unprecedented boom" in home grows is attributable to a number of factors, including the relaxation of marijuana's classification to the less serious Class-C category, the easy availability of seeds and equipment over the Internet, and continuing demand from an aging population of middle-class consumers who have lost connections or simply wish to avoid the street-level drug-dealing scene, the newspaper explained. And some people are just in it for the money.
According to the Independent, British police are busting at least a dozen grows every week. In London alone, the number of grow busts has risen from 230 in 2003 to 420 last year and, if bust trends this year continue, should hit 600 by year's end. In Merseyside, a similar trend was evident, with grow busts rising from 18 in 2002 to 91 last year. Some 750 people with small grows were issued cautions in 2003, the last year for which figures are available, while the number of people convicted of operating grows was nearly 1,900 that same year. British police typically issue cautions for small, personal grows and prosecute larger commercial operations, they told the Independent.
A little more than two years ago, Mike Hough, professor of criminal policy at King's College London, authored a report on cannabis that predicted home-grown smoke would soon account for half the market. "I think these figures suggest it is truer now than when we wrote the report," he told the Independent.
But arrests and cautions only tell part of the story. The Independent got indirect confirmation of its thesis by reviewing the expansion of the Sceptered Isle's seed and grow-store industry. "There has been a rapid rise in small-scale cultivation," Brian Biggs of Hempstead Hydroponics in Waterford told the newspaper. "Although we cannot advertise our equipment for illegal purposes, we are aware than 90% of our customers probably use it for growing cannabis, which of course we do not condone." As Monty Python's Eric Idle used to say, "Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink."
It's often a family affair, said Biggs. Many of his new customers are middle-aged people with families who would rather grow their own than risk going to the street. "We get a lot of people coming in with their kids and they tell us that it is the kids have the know-how to grow it for their parents."
While police are officially aghast at the growth of do-it-yourself marijuana production, they may be missing the larger implication, Professor Hough suggested. "If the easy availability of growing equipment makes it possible to isolate people from criminal supply networks, that has to be a good thing," he said.