Thirty-six-year-old David* from east London has started growing weed in lockdown. As word spreads among close friends and family, several people have expressed an interest to him in doing so too. “Growing so far seems pretty straight forward and much like nurturing any other plant from seed. It is lovely to see it grow," he says. "I am not concerned with a large yield, although I would like to grow enough to make into butter to put into recipes for cakes and similar things.” The majority of his enjoyment – as with the sourdough bakers and succulent growers of lockdown – is in the return to nature.
At the same time as David was getting green fingers, in another corner of London, Jacob*, 32 was made unemployed. He smoked weed semi-regularly anyway, but with the stress of being away from his family and without a job during the pandemic, he began smoking a “fair bit” every day. “My friend in south London started growing it at his at the start of the year just for himself,” he says, “Now he gives it to a few mates and instead of having to see my dealer, he can come over on his bike. We all get to see him socially distanced and get it off him.”
He adds: “It’s easier than having to worry about a dealer anyway – not that it’s a big deal [to pick up]. But with everything going on in the world, seeing a mate and knowing they’ve just grown it at theirs is a bit more chill.”
If anecdotal evidence is to be believed, this is becoming more prevalent. This is despite the fact that growing – as well as possessing, distributing or selling – weed remains illegal in the UK. As a Class B drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the penalties for dealing or producing cannabis can be up to 14 years in prison, an unlimited fine, or both.
Since lockdown started, Edinburgh-based charity Crew 2000 surveyed hundreds of recreational drug users about their use during the month of April under lockdown. The drugs with the biggest surge in usage are cannabis, cocaine and alcohol, while more than 50 percent of people reported drinking and taking drugs more often. A new and far larger report from Global Drugs Survey on COVID-19 and drugs usage found that the most common reasons for an uptick in cannabis use were "time to kill" and "isolation ennui".
Although many dealers are observing social distancing and will leave drugs in certain safe places, some regular British smokers are using the time and peace and quiet at home to grow their own stash – just for themselves and perhaps a few friends or flatmates.
David bought his seeds from an online shop based in Amsterdam. They arrived in the post about a week later. “The shop specialises in feminised auto-flowers, which I recently discovered are a fairly new development in cannabis growing. It means that growers, even in cloudy, rainy northern climates such as the UK, can grow easily even in the tiniest outdoor space as the plants are smaller than normal.” The seeds result in scent-free plants, and David takes joy from the newfound self sufficiency. His plants, now small, will provide an ounce of "homegrown and unsullied cannabis from a £10 seed, in most cases”.
Mick*, 26, from Barcelona, now living in London is considering growing a new batch: he grew weed at home last year and his housemates to convince him to do it again during lockdown. “It’s understandable if more people grow their own weed right now,” he says. “The weed people sell around London and the UK that my friends smoke, I’ve never really enjoyed. There’s something about knowing where it’s come from and it’s fairly easy to do as well."
It all started when his housemate went to Amsterdam and brought back seeds. "We have three bathrooms in the house and one was facing south, the window was clouded out – I put the plants there. It got so hot by that window that I didn’t need any UV lights or anything. They grew to full-size in three to four months or something. I barely watered it as well because with everyone taking showers it got steamy."
The hardest part was keeping it a secret, though that isn't a problem now. "I had to avoid other people because it was a big house and we had friends coming over. I didn’t want people to know, I had to lock that bathroom. But under lockdown that would be easy."
Those interviewed believe there is a misconception about how difficult and technical it is to grow cannabis plants. “The more people realise it’s easy in lockdown, the more people might start doing it, which I think is great,” Mick says.
As David’s plants grow bigger and he continues to enjoy the process, he can only agree with Mick’s sentiment. “I think it's recommendable to anyone who likes growing plants and gardening and the effects of cannabis. And particularly as it takes what is a natural and positive thing away from the often horrendous consequences of the criminal economy." According to Jacob, his friend isn't sure whether he'll carry on growing and sharing weed after lockdown: "It's a temporary thing for now at least, sort of a past-time, something to do."
For the meantime, it would seem that home-growing is about escapism. Of his new hobby, David says: “I think that this is to relieve the monotony. And it’s a funny and relaxing temporary departure from the extreme seriousness of what is going on.”
* Names changed to provide protection.