Global cannabis survey aims to provide insight on cannabis cultivation and drive international policy reform

| Ashley Keenan

A survey asking questions about cannabis cultivation is getting a tepid response from the cannabis community and lagging in Canadian respondents.

The survey is run by the Global Cannabis Cultivation Research Consortium (GCCRC), an international team of 16 different countries and researchers that are collaborating to understand cannabis cultivation.

“We’re not botanists, we’re social scientists,” explains Daniel Bear over video chat. Bear is a professor at Humber College in Toronto who is one of two leads to the Canadian portion of the survey. 

“We want to understand the story behind how people cultivate cannabis. How, why and in what ways are you growing cannabis? What is your motivation? What do you do with cannabis?”

The GCCRC aims to understand the practices and experiences to provide realistic and up-to-date information that drives policy reform and ultimately legalization. Bear believes this survey is an important way for growers to have their voice heard. Canadian experiences are uniquely important, along with Uruguay, to see how legalization impacts the people who grow cannabis. 

“I wanted to jump into this project because it’s an opportunity to give voice to cannabis growers. In prohibition, they were targeted and now in legalization they have been largely ignored. There isn’t support for cannabis growers; it’s like they were told ok, here’s four plants go off and just do it.” 

How does your garden grow?

Bear points out that there is a significant gap in knowledge surrounding how and why people grow cannabis. 

“If you legalize cannabis, but shortchange people’s ability to grow legal cannabis in the way that they want to, you are denying them access,” says Bear. “With the data from this survey, we can actually drive cannabis growing policy that is effective and meets the needs of consumers.”

The first time the group conducted this cultivation survey was in 2012. Bear says that the insight from the first survey was significant because there was no other dataset like it. With laws varying from country to country there wasn’t really anyone asking questions like this – let alone at this scale. 

As a social scientist,  Bear found the most notable thing from the first survey was how ordinary cannabis growers are. He shares that the data revealed the average small cultivator was a fairly average individual. 

“We found that most small scale growers were not sort of funneling [cannabis] into the black market, in a sort of large commercial essence. What they were often doing was a bit of social sharing. Friends and family would give their cannabis away, often after they grew more than they needed.” 

The top five reported reasons for growing cannabis were, in order:

  • ‘It provides me with cannabis for personal use’ (84%),
  • ‘I get pleasure from growing cannabis’ (83%),
  • ‘It’s cheaper than buying cannabis’ (75%),
  • ‘To avoid contact with the illegal circuit (such as street dealers and criminal operations)’
  • (72%),
  • ‘The cannabis I grow is healthier than the cannabis I buy’ (68%). 

Overall, the data from 2012 showed a great deal of similarity between nations when it came to demographic characteristics, methods and scale, rationale, levels of experience, and contact with the criminal system. 

One of the largest differences Bear notes is the yield of each plant, which he says can vary based on the country. He adds participants also had different ideas of how much cannabis was a ‘good’ yield. 

“I think it’s interesting to see how much people are yielding and the different methods that they’re going with. Obviously, you know, you have to be that more surreptitious if it’s prohibited versus in Canada.”

Concerns on legitimacy

The survey is an international effort from higher learning institutes around the world. Bear is the Canadian – English lead for the project and is backed by Humber College. The Canadian – French side is being facilitated by the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec. 

The project in its entirety is led by the University of Ghent and made up of dozens of international academic institutions worldwide. The findings from the first survey were published in international and peer reviewed journals, as well as in four book chapters and a special issue of the International Journal of Drug Policy.

In his interview with StratCann, Bear addressed the lukewarm reception for the survey and how there have been doubts about the legitimacy and how the data will be used. It became clear that the website, hosting, and lack of polished marketing was a result of small budget and sparse staff resources.  

“We take safety and security incredibly seriously. We have a whole section on our website about how we protect people’s information. We don’t collect any data about people, we don’t collect IP addresses, our website doesn’t collect any visitor Information.”

“We are also very careful on who we accept funding from. We do not take money from cannabis producers or retailers, nor do we sell any of the data.”

Poor Canadian participation

At the time of our interview, Canadian responses to the survey were around 120. To put that in context, Australia – which has two thirds the population of Canada – has over 100 responses. Apparently Belgium has quite the green thumb, submitting over 1,200 surveys so far. 

It is more than just an issue of national pride according to Bear. Canadian participation is particularly important in this year’s survey. Since the first survey, Canada has become the first G7 country to legalize adult cannabis use. 

“We’re interested in understanding what cannabis growing looks like in Canada, with small scale growers. Any small scale growers, whether you are a licensed micro producer or a legacy era entrepreneur. First time growers? Absolutely! Once you’ve mastered the sourdough starter it’s time to try growing cannabis.”

To entice Canadian recipients, and support policy reform, the GCCRC has set up an incentive. For the rest of the month of November, they have earmarked their recruitment budget for attracting Canadian respondents. For every completed survey from a Canadian respondent, they have set up $0.50 to be donated to NORML Canada

“NORML Canada is excited to collaborate with the Global Cannabis Cultivation Research Consortium. We encourage our friends and followers to complete the International Cannabis Cultivation Questionnaire 2.0,” says Caryma S’ad Executive Director of NORML Canada.

“Apart from contributing to important academic research, each survey response will prompt a donation to NORML Canada so we can continue to lobby for fair, sensible, and equitable cannabis law and policy.”