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Criminal Justice Professor Says Cannabis Debate Will Continue

Published: December 2, 2013

Following her first sabbatical, Criminal Justice’s Aili Malm returned to campus this fall with a survey that may have the power to inform policy makers when it comes to cannabis cultivation.

“My major focus was a web survey I created with scholars from 11 nations that asked a series of questions of people who cultivate cannabis. We probed their motivations, their careers and their harvests. It was really, really interesting,” said the member of the university since 2006. “This is a very paranoid population.” The International Journal for Drug Policy will feature their research in a special issue at the end of 2014.

Trying to tap into the cannabis cultivation community through a web survey brings up all kinds of issues, not the least of which is, will the respondents answer truthfully?

“Respondents were very suspicious of who we were,” recalled Malm. “But after the paranoid questions came a good response rate. Internationally, we expect more than 25,000 responses.” The survey reached out to Belgium, the Netherlands, the UK, Denmark, Germany and Finland. New Zealand and Australia represented Oceana, the Canadian-U.S. surveys were clumped together and Uruguay represented Latin America. Malm’s own research included visits to Finland, Denmark and the UK to confer with her research team. She presented her findings in Bogota this summer before the International Society for the Study of Drug Policy.

One survey surprise was the low number of commercial growers. “Only 6 percent of our data set was accounted for by commercial growers,” she said. “Another surprising result was that the growers who start small don’t necessarily get bigger.

“What we found was that the smaller mom-and-pop growers were more motivated by the decision to grow for friends, medicine and recreation,” she added. “There was a joy of growing and a love of the plant. If those are the reasons they decided to cultivate, they are unlikely to change. The ones in it for profit are the ones likely to expand their markets.”

Malm hopes her data influences the nation’s policy makers.

“If we can show that mom-and-pop shops are not seeking to expand, then people are more likely to support the eventual decriminalization of small-scale production,” she said. “That is important because, the more people grow their own, the less reliance they place on larger cultivators who may be connected to organized crime.”

The questions responded to most enthusiastically were about growing techniques. “People were excited to talk about how they did it,” she said. “They were excited to talk about their techniques and about why they did it. Many were put off by questions about law enforcement. Also, they were put off by our asking how much they made. Have you been caught? Do you think you will be? These were the questions that weren’t received quite as well.”

Malm states that there is increasing support for medical marijuana across the U.S.

Aili Malm says Cannabis Debate Will Continue
Aili Malm

“There has been a switching of perspectives when it comes to the medical use of marijuana,” she said. “Recreational use is an issue still under discussion. What is especially interesting is that there are counties in California, Colorado and Oregon where you can cultivate a certain amount yet it is still highly illegal to cultivate in other regions such as New York City. This results in cross-country shipment. It is grown legally but sold illegally. This results in a weird continuum that ranges from completely legal, to gray market, to a completely illicit market.”

Malm, who received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, the latter in 2006, sees the legalization dispute continuing for another decade.

“I see more states regulating the cultivation of marijuana. I think we will see a change in federal policy within five years,” she predicted.

“On an international level, people are becoming far more open about discussing the issue,” she added. “Canada’s been wanting to regulate cultivation forever but they’re sleeping with an elephant. They can’t do much because the elephant would roll over on them. As for Mexico, they are very interested in what is happening in states like California and Colorado. They are the land trade route for what is happening in Central and South America and they’re seeing a huge death toll because of it. We’ve actually seen the Netherlands pull back but that was more of a reaction to ‘cannabis tourism.’ In Western nations, you will see a move toward legalized use of marijuana accompanied by a decriminalized cultivation of small amounts. But I am not convinced that same attitude will be shown to other drugs. This is an experiment and people will have to do research to discover what the real consequences are going to be.”