In this episode we introduce some of the ideas and issues related to growing your own cannabis at home; why is DIY cultivation so important?
Episode 8 – Grow your own Cannabis
Hi there and welcome to the Hemp Community Podcast, my name is Dan and in this week’s episode we’re going to be talking about growing your own cannabis.
Before we get started I want to make it crystal clear that it is your responsibility to observe the law in your local area. There are many places in the world where growing your own cannabis is legal and we will discuss examples later on in the episode, however in the UK it is illegal to grow your own. Our cannabis cultivation laws are among the most restrictive in Europe and there is no legal way for individuals or communities to grow cannabis plants without strict oversight from the Home Office.
I’d also like to let listeners know that this episode is not going to be a technical seminar; I’m no expert on growing weed and I’m not going to give a step-by-step guide on how to set up your lamps. What I would like to do is discuss some of the facts and issues that highlight the importance of domestic and DIY production of cannabis. I hope to convince you that the right to grow your own cannabis is absolutely essential if we want cannabis legislation reform to be successful.
First and foremost, what do we mean when we say cannabis? Well, the cannabis species is made up of about 5,000 different varieties of plant; some strains are used for making everyday items like paper, fabric or building materials, but the most famous forms of cannabis are those bred to produce high quantities of cannabinoids like CBD and THC. Humans have cultivated cannabis for tens of thousands of years, and we have helped the herb spread to every inhabitable continent on earth.
So far so good right? Well, Unfortunately during the 20th century governments around the world set about prohibiting cannabis; the plant has spent the best part of 80 years treated like a scourge on society, when in fact the love of cannabis has been part of human cultures across the globe and since before the beginning of written history.
Of course, making cannabis illegal didn’t make it go away and today after almost a century of counter-productive prohibition, the cannabis plant is experiencing somewhat of a renaissance. More and more countries are legalising cannabis for both medical and personal use, although there are many grey areas in the hodge-podge of policy that makes up cannabis legislation. We’ve touched on the mess of cannabis regulations in previous episodes of the podcast, but of course today we’re focusing on rules relating to growing your own cannabis at home.
For example if you are a resident of the UK it is illegal for you to grow your own cannabis for any reason, even if you have a prescription. It is however legal for you to purchase cannabis seeds, and there are no shortage of online and high-street vendors who offer a wide variety of Exotic strains with exciting names and designer genetics, sold as souvenirs. It may interest you to learn that there is no crime in selling cannabis seeds, as long as they are not sold in the same premises as gardening supplies and they must be marketed as a collectible item, and not for the purposes of cultivation. The moment you attempt to germinate the seed, that is when the law has been broken. One of the easiest ways to germinate a seed, of any species, is to wet some tissue paper or kitchen roll, place the seed on it, then cover it up and leave it for a day or two. When you come back, you should be greeted by a tiny, thirsty shoot emerging from the seed. The seed is now ready to plant, and you have an easy way of sorting out the useful seeds from the duds.
When buying seeds, it is recommended to research the properties of the strain you are buying; above and beyond the desired effects of the end product, it is important to understand that some seeds are easy to grow, whereas some will take a more experienced hand to get the best results. Most cannabis seeds available for purchase are feminised, meaning the plant that grows from them will definitely be female. As a cannabis farmer, you’ll want lots of female plants because the female plants produce the biggest flowers with the highest cannabinoid content. In case you didn’t know, cannabis is a dioecious species meaning it has both male and female individuals; even one male among your crop can spoil your harvest by pollinating adjacent female plants, who would in turn reduce their cannabinoid output in order to prioritise the production of seeds.
Some seeds are also described as being “auto-flowering” which is a relatively modern offering that makes growing your own cannabis that little bit easier. The cannabis plant grows through multiple stages, and one of the milestones in your crops life cycle is when the plant switches from vegetative growth, to flowering growth. Traditionally plants make this change in response to the availability of light and indoor farmers would do this by adjusting the timers on their lamps. Auto-seeds have been bred to make this change without waiting for the light to change, and as such auto-seeds have become very popular especially for people new to home growing.
Different strains of cannabis have their own requirements; they might prefer a particular nutrient balance, or light cycle in order to maximise their growth. Of course, every strain also has it’s own cannabinoid and terpene profile, and you may have set your sights on a particular strain so when you are choosing seeds, be sure to identify the kinds of conditions your plants will need to thrive. Many seed vendors offer a rating system to advise on the suggested skill level required to grow particular plants. As with any project, the more you know in advance and are able to prepare for, the better.
While we’re on the subject of preparation, be ready for a steep learning curve. Take even a cursory glance at the home hydroponic market and you’ll see a wide variety of tents, air filtration systems, high power lamps, hygrometers, plant food and more. Like all good hobbies, there are always options for you investigate and experiment with; a plethora interesting kit and innovative products, and thanks to the hard work of cannabis enthusiasts through the decades, there are plenty of books, blogs and guides with in-depth descriptions of every step of the process.
Most homegrown cannabis is normally produced in sealed growing tents; ranging in size from the equivalent of a small fridge to something big enough to park a car in. The outside of the tent is normally black, and the inside is coated with reflective silvery material to minimise loss of light and heat. If you want to grow cannabis with an appreciable cannabinoid content, you’re going to want a bright, warm environment, it is after all a tropical plant. Its also important to monitor the humidity in the room, because we don’t want to encourage the growth of mould on our flowers. For this reason, tents normally have openings incorporated into the design where we can affix air filtration systems which help maintain the internal environment. These air filters are also incredibly useful when trying to manage the powerful aroma of living cannabis; it is a notoriously pungent plant and while most people are tolerant of cannabis use in modern society, all it takes is a whiff up the wrong nostril for your indoor project to become a target for local law enforcement.
It's common to see announcements of drug raids on social media and in the news; reports of police storming so-called “cannabis factories” in a variety of locations, including houses and commercial properties that are taken over and repurposed. While it is illegal, it is unlikely that the police are looking to shut down your home grow if it is small and discreet; larger grows tend to be connected to organised crime and are sometimes worth millions of pounds to the gangs that run them. These are the types of cannabis grow operations that police are most interested in. Criminal gangs use the revenue from illicit cannabis grows to fund their other activities, including human trafficking and the acquisition of weapons and firearms. The black market for cannabis is worth approximately two and a half billion pounds a year, none of which is currently taxed. Even moderate drugs busts can take months of panning and tens of thousands of pounds in funding to facilitate. Every time you see police emptying an illegal indoor weed farm, be aware that their effort is paid for with public money, and yet for all their hard work they only set the illicit market back by a few hours at most.
In jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalised for medical or adult use, it is common to see a relaxing of laws governing the cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption. Almost all American states with legal weed also allow individuals to grow their own plants at home, which in turn has created a host of opportunities for businesses to supply these enthusiasts. Specialist hydroponic supplies shops have sprung up in place of traditional gardening centres, and staff are able to apply their expertise so that customers get the best possible experience. Even better, many stores and dispensaries even sell plants that all already part-grown, so you can get a head start on your home grow.
As well as reflective tents and flower pots, there have been significant innovations in the type of tech that is used for home growing, including LED lamps with customisable wavelengths of light to suit any strain. On my wishlist is a device that looks like a small fridge, but offers to fully automate the home growing process; simply plant your seed, enter the details of the strain and in 6-8 weeks you get a notification to your phone to tell you that your pot is ready. Of course, you can check in at any time and observe your plant through a built in camera and the accompanying app for your smartphone.
Of course, products like that are more commonly found in jurisdictions where home cultivation of cannabis is legal; some of the best examples are found in the United States. Laws regarding home-growing vary from state to state but generally most regulators allow for about half a dozen plants for personal use. As a rule of thumb a well bred plant should net the grower approximately 50g of cannabis flower, which should be enough for most people to get on with. In some places, groups of growers are able to combine their allowance, so for example 3 neighbours would be allowed to grow 12 plants in 1 location.
Regulators are required to identify a sensible limit as to how much cannabis an individual can grow before it constitutes a commercial enterprise; when cannabis was legalised for adult use in Colorado, there were stories in the media of intrepid growers who decided to try and maximise the output of their basement grow-tents in an attempt to become professional cannabis farmers. Of course, not everyone has the green thumb necessary for this work, and with amateur grows there is a higher chance of error resulting in substandard product heading to market. Many growers found themselves burdened with kilograms of weed that wasn’t quite good enough for dispensaries who have strict vetting processes to make sure the product they are selling is of the best possible quality.
Of course, not all people who cultivate their own cannabis do so for commercial gain. Many growers do so for the simple pleasure of watching a plant grow, and subsequently are able to enjoy the fruits of their labour safe in the knowledge that their cannabis hasn’t been unduly interfered with; no weird chemicals, no connection to criminal gangs; no problem. Creating a safe distance from organised crime is one of the positive aspects of growing your own cannabis, but there are other benefits.
For a start, home grown cannabis is cheap; most weed on the illicit market averages £10-15 per gram, but a single plant in your cupboard can produce a couple of ounces in less than 2 months; even the most expensive seeds cost little more than a few pounds, so after the initial start-up cost of buying the equipment, your miniature crop will pay for itself in no-time.
Another fantastic benefit of home grown cannabis is increased efficiency; as a grower you want your plants to produce big, beautiful buds, but that doesn’t mean you have to dispose entirely of all the other plant matter. Many growers take their trimmings and leftover parts and make oils and pastes to give to friends or family who are in need of medical cannabis and unable to access a private prescription. Nothing need go to waste!
Reducing waste is another reason why home growing is an attractive option; no more plastic baggies or having to meet with dealers, simply pick, dry and cure your flowers and decant them into a mason jar to keep them fresh for up to 6 months.
I personally have only ever grown 1 cannabis plant. I’m not a gifted gardener, nor do I have any specialist equipment for cultivation, but at the beginning of the COVID crisis I decided that I would like to have a little house plant to look at during the lockdown. I acquired some cheap seeds and over the next 6-8 weeks I watched the little girl grow from a mere sprout to a squat and smelly cannabis plant. Unfortunately the conditions I grew her in were not conducive to a good harvest, and although she did produce some flowers I opted not to use them because they appeared to have a little mould on them. For me, consuming these particular flowers wasn’t the point; I wanted the experience, and as with all things cannabis I believe that experience is key to understanding. I can still remember how excited I was when the first little green shoot emerged from the soil, and I recall the emergence of the first fan leaves, and how she twisted and turned in the sun!
There is a connection between humans and plants that is deeper than I think many people realise. Our species grew up among trees and bushes, we gathered more food from plants than we claimed from animals of prey. Look around the UK, and indeed the world and you will see charities, social enterprises and community groups working in shared gardens where people of all levels of ability and interest can come together to make things grow. It is a human instinct and something that we can all learn to enjoy given the time and space.
Rank amateur as I am, I still recognise that in order for cannabis law reform to meaningful or successful, legislators must take into consideration the very simple fact that some people want to grow their own, and will continue to do so regardless of the law. I think that legalising DIY cannabis cultivation might have a greater impact on the drug gangs than any of the police raids or prohibition propaganda campaigns that we as a population are subjected to. Imagine being able to grow a couple of plants in your loft; why would ever shop in the black market again? If you don’t have a loft, why not pool your resources with a friend or family member!
Some would say that the ability to grow one’s own medicine would hurt the pharmaceutical companies too much, and while this may be true to an extent, I do not believe that the number of home-grows would be enough to topple big pharma, at least not to begin with.
Ultimately, allowing DIY cannabis cultivation gives the consumer more choice and significantly less risk. Intelligent policy would also allow for the creation of community gardens and cannabis social clubs where people could learn from one another and enjoy a hobby that humans have pursued for tens of thousands of years. We allow people to make their own beer and wine, there are even homebrew shops on UK high streets who sell all the equipment and ingredients you need to make your own alcohol, why is cannabis treated so differently?
The answer unfortunately is prejudice; as a culture we have conditioned to distrust, fear or even revile the cannabis plant. I can understand that people may not want to experience the inconvenience of a pungent cannabis plant in their neighbour’s shed, but prohibition doesn’t make that problem go away, although a good carbon filter would certainly help.
I look forward to the day when citizens in the UK are able to grow cannabis plants at home without fear of legal repercussions, and I hope that when the pace of cannabis legal reform in the UK finally hastens, there will be a voice at the policy table to represent the interests of the home-growers because without the right to grow cannabis at home, reform is nothing more than smoke and mirrors. DIY cannabis is not just desirable, it is necessary.