How Prohibition Pushed Cannabis Cultivation Indoors

As the War on Drugs ramped up, cannabis cultivators moved to the shadows and began to cultivate their plants in discrete, indoor locations. Today, many growers continue to employ indoor methods to grow their plants. But is this the best way to do it?

In the 1970s, the United States, as led by President Richard Nixon, waged a worldwide War on Drugs, in which Nixon declared certain drugs "public enemy number one" – cannabis being one of them.

Now, as the War on Drugs comes to an end, societies are realizing that prohibition isn't necessarily the best option when it comes to drug use. When drugs become illegal, people simply become more discrete about their usage, and a black market emerges as a result. This is what happened during the alcohol prohibition in the 20s, which led to the proliferation of homebrew beverages, which are often a much higher alcohol level than beer and lead to higher rates of hospitalizations. And more recently, this is precisely what happened with cannabis. As cannabis became more dangerous to grow, growers moved their efforts indoors, and when people couldn't get their hands on real weed, they would buy synthetic weed – often leading to higher rates of hospitalizations. Sound familiar?

In fact, in 2006, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that "law enforcement action in the second half of the 1970s to the early 1980s appears to have inadvertently… pushed some domestic production indoors."

Thankfully, cannabis prohibition is coming to an end. Patients can now access medicinal marijuana products more easily, CBD is available over-the-counter in a growing number of countries, and states that have legalized the plant recreationally are enjoying millions in additional tax revenue. But even as regulation becomes more relaxed around cannabis cultivation, many growers continue to grow their plants indoors, often in large grow houses.

There are several reasons for this; when growing cannabis indoors, cultivators are able to better control the external conditions that the plant faces. With indoor growing you can control humidity, temperature, UV exposure, and more, all leading to a more consistent end-product. But are there benefits that cultivators miss out when they forego outdoor growing? Let's find out.

Benefits to Outdoor Growing

For the aforementioned reasons, not everyone can grow cannabis outdoors. If you live in an area where sunshine is sparse or infrequent, or where the weather can be tumultuous, chances are you're going to struggle to produce consistent cannabis materials.

However, if you're in a climate where cannabis cultivation is possible in the great outdoors, there are benefits aplenty. For starters, if you don't need to have an artificial lighting system operating throughout the day to simulate sunshine, and if you instead have legitimate sunlight, the expenses involved with cultivating are going to be heavily reduced. If we think about the impacts of this factor alone, this would mean that large-scale cultivators are able to offer their raw cannabis material at significantly lower costs than their indoor competitors, which in turn will lower costs felt by consumers.

This is of particular importance given the enduring cannabis black market, often attributed to the high costs seen in legal cannabis dispensaries when compared with their illicit counterparts.

Moreover, growing cannabis outdoors can give plants access to natural nutrient-rich soils as opposed to store-bought soils, which more closely replicates cannabis's natural growing conditions. This allows for cannabis-derived products to be marketed as non-GMO and organic in some instances.

Lastly, (though there are plenty of additional benefits) if you live in an area where there is excess UV, such as Tasmania, you're able to produce a higher-potency plant.

Outdoor Versus Indoor Growing

Ultimately, the reason indoor growing is so prevalent is simply due to necessity. The truth is that many climates throughout the world don't allow for efficient cannabis cultivation or consistent yields, and indoor growing allows cultivators to control the factors their plants get exposed to.

However, in areas where outdoor cultivation is possible, and where conditions remain relatively consistent and optimal for growing cannabis, outdoor growing is superior.

As we discussed, the tendency for growers to cultivate cannabis indoors is largely a result of the War on Drugs, and this may not necessarily be optimal in every case. Outdoor growth allows for cheaper costs in production and therefore to consumers, a more natural cultivation process and end product, and in some instances, higher potency plants due to excess UV exposure.

One company has sought to capitalize on the lower costs involved with outdoor cannabis cultivation, which is ECS Botanics (ASX: ECS) who recently announced its plans to begin a large-scale medicinal cannabis cultivation operation in the Tasmanian outdoors, boasting significantly lower costs than its competitors.

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Louis O'Neill
Louis O'Neill

Louis is a writer based in Sydney with a focus on social and political issues. Having interviewed local politicians and entrepreneurs, Louis now focuses on cannabis culture, legislation & reform.

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