Field of dreams (of growing cannabis)

Our enlightened advice columnist answers your questions about becoming a legal cannabis farmer, plus the thorny topic of whether marijuana is addictive


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Dear Herb: I have a medical cannabis licence to grow my own medicine presently. Will I have the opportunity to grow cannabis as a business once it's legal in Canada? — Future Farmer

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2017 (1869 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dear Herb: I have a medical cannabis licence to grow my own medicine presently. Will I have the opportunity to grow cannabis as a business once it’s legal in Canada? — Future Farmer

Dear Future Farmer: Your question gets to the heart of an important policy question about cannabis legalization: Should Canadians with prior experience growing cannabis be allowed to contribute to the legal supply of the plant?

Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he'll look into it.

At first, it looked like the federal government’s answer to that question was “no.” As you probably know, Ottawa’s existing rules for legal medical cannabis limits large-scale production to a group of authorized licensed producers, who adhere to a strict regulatory scheme called the ACMPR.

Those licensed producers will also be the source of cannabis sold for recreational purposes after legalization. (Individual medical cannabis users like yourself are also allowed to grow their own, as are some “designated growers” who grow on behalf of other medical users.)

Critics of the government’s legalization plan, though, have argued that restricting legal production of recreational cannabis to licensed producers would leave lots of people (like yourself) out in the cold. Preventing Canadians with existing cannabis production experience from taking part in the legal industry, those critics argue, is a recipe for continuing the black market.

Plus, it ignores the fact that people like you have valuable skills — why shouldn’t you be able to monetize your bud-growing talent and contribute to the economy?

Those arguments might have made a difference. In November, the federal government announced draft regulations that could allow people like you to grow cannabis for sale to the general public after legalization.

Those proposed regulations would allow “micro-cultivation” of cannabis on a much smaller scale than the big licensed producers, under slightly less onerous rules. Health Canada is still figuring out exactly how “micro” a micro-cultivation operation would have to be.

If you’re interested, I strongly recommend you read through the proposed regulations in full.

Remember, Future Farmer: These regulations aren’t written in stone, and Health Canada has asked Canadians to give feedback before the rules are finalized. You have until January 20 to share your thoughts as part of the consultation process.

If you end up become a micro-cultivator in the future, please let me know! I’d love to tour the farm. Good luck!



Dear Herb: I always have thought pot was pretty harmless and not addicting. Now I know many people that are (at least) mentally very addicted to it. My opinion is they are using it as a coping mechanism and have done so for years.

Is this something anyone else has noticed? Or am I just now experiencing the ‘pothead’ culture? — Social Smoker

Dear Social Smoker: Thanks for the question. The issue of cannabis addiction is confusing and controversial, but I’ll do my best, as always!

Your query itself hints at part of the answer: You mentioned that you know people who are “mentally” addicted to cannabis. These days, experts generally consider cannabis to have the potential for psychological addiction, but not physical addiction like heroin or cocaine. (That said, some heavy cannabis users have reported experiencing unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms if they quit cold turkey.)

In other words, people can become psychologically dependent on the emotional and cognitive effects of cannabis — just like someone can become psychologically dependent on any other pleasurable substance or experience (food, pornography, smartphones, Star Trek reruns, collecting stamps, etc.)

It’s definitely possible that cannabis can be used as a “coping mechanism,” as you said, but so can all kinds of things.

If cannabis can cause psychological dependence, the question becomes: How likely is a cannabis user to actually become dependent on the drug? Here’s where things get a little sketchy.

The most frequently cited statistic on this topic is that “nine per cent of cannabis users become dependent.” (Sometimes this is rounded up to ten per cent; it’s also expressed as “one in 11 users.”)

As best I can tell, that figure traces back to a 1994 study by James C. Anthony, Lynn A. Warner, and Ronald C. Kessler published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, called “Comparative Epidemiology of Dependence on Tobacco, Alcohol, Controlled Substances, and Inhalants: Basic Findings From the National Comorbidity Survey.”

The researchers relied on a sample of 8,098 participants in the U.S., each of whom was interviewed about their substance use between 1990 and 1992. To be termed “dependent” on a substance, the subjects had to meet at least three of nine criteria for dependence set out in the third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was published in 1980.

(Perhaps you’re starting to see the issues with relying on the “nine per cent” figure nowadays: It’s based on 25-year-old research, and uses a definition of “dependence” that’s almost four decades old.)

“Within the study population, an estimated 46.3% had used cannabis at least once, but only 9.1% of the users had developed cannabis dependence. For every user with a history of cannabis dependence, there were 10 users who had not become dependent,” wrote the authors.

“By comparison, an estimated 16.2% of the study population had tried cocaine at least once, and 16.7% of them had qualified as cocaine dependent.”

My point here isn’t that cannabis doesn’t cause dependence — clearly, it can. But we need much, much better research on the topic before we can make any trustworthy claims about the exact likelihood of that dependence.

In the meantime, maybe you can chat with your buddies about how they’re using cannabis. With legalization on the horizon, I’m finding people are becoming more honest about their marijuana use.



Got a question about cannabis? Herb answers your questions about legal consumption and growing, the law, etiquette — you name it, he’ll look into it.  Email or to submit anonymously, fill out this form:    


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