Opening remarks about personal cultivation to Standing Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology

Mr. Chairman, it is an honour to be invited to speak today on the important topic of cannabis legalization.

I am a scientist who has studied the cannabis plant, and its chemistry and biochemistry, since 1999. I am currently an Adjunct Professor in the Botany Department at The University of British Columbia, and the CEO of a cannabis testing and biotechnology company called Anandia Labs.

I want to specifically address the subject of personal cultivation or home growing. This is clearly one of the most controversial aspects of Bill C-45, and it is important to discuss these concerns in light of the present state of knowledge about the cannabis plant.

Importance of personal cultivation

Before I turn to the science, I’d like to state that I think it is fundamentally important that cannabis legalization includes the ability to grow the plant itself. The cultivation of plants is a foundational aspect of human culture. The advent of agriculture via the cultivation of plants is one of the key forces in the creation of human societies. Humans continue to have an innate urge to grow plants, as is now apparent as we Canadians emerge from our winter hibernation and return to our gardens.

Cannabis has been grown by humans for thousands of years, and has served as a source of food, fibre and drug. Given this long-standing relationship, and the fact that we are legalizing use by adults, it seems untenable that we could contemplate legalization without allowing personal cultivation. Imagine being able to buy a tomato at the grocery store but being prevented by law from growing one yourself?

Cannabis can be grown safely at home

Some senators and witnesses are concerned that our cities will be overrun by cannabis gardens; others worry that cannabis plants in homes are dangerous for children. I think these concerns are misplaced, and can be reduced by a better understanding of the risks involved.

One point is that children cannot get high from deliberately or inadvertently eating cannabis plants. Cannabis does not contain the drug THC, but rather its precursor THC Acid, which is non-psychoactive. Cannabis needs to be smoked or heated to convert THC Acid to THC. What this means is that a toddler accidentally nibbling a cannabis leaf will not become intoxicated. Even this is highly unlikely, since cannabis is not sweet or colourful and actually quite unpalatable.

A second point is that the cannabinoids such as THC are not volatile at room temperature. Although the plant can have a strong smell, that smell is due to chemicals called terpenes and not THC. It is impossible for children or adults to become intoxicated just by breathing the air near cannabis plants.

Allergic reactions to cannabis are very infrequent and not serious.

Although it is not easy to grow well, cannabis is not a special plant. The water, light, and space needed for growing up to four cannabis plants in a private dwelling or a backyard are not a cause for concern. The space involved is perhaps three feet by three feet in area. The smell of cannabis can be mitigated by proper ventilation or air filtration.

Our homes contain many products that can harm children and youth: brightly coloured laundry pods, solvents, alcohol in unlocked cupboards and refrigerators, leftover painkillers in medicine cabinets. We already grow toxic plants such as Philodendron, foxglove and yew. By these standards, cannabis is not a safety concern.

Will personal cultivation make cannabis more available to teenagers? This seems to be an area where drug education of youth and parental supervision are better solutions rather than an outright ban on personal growing. The risks here are no different than those contemplated for cannabis purchased by adults and then stored in homes.

I will also point out that it is unlikely that many Canadians will grow their own cannabis. I read the testimony of one witness to this Committee who said that a 100-unit high-rise apartment building could contain 400 cannabis plants under the proposed legislation. While perhaps factually correct, I think this is an exaggeration. Canadians can produce their own beer and wine at home, and grow tobacco for personal use, but the vast majority buy from stores. Similarly, most people will purchase cannabis rather than growing it, and it seems unlikely that home-grown cannabis will enter the black market on a large scale. The retail system that the provinces are now implementing will mean that cannabis is widely available for purchase.

Outdoor cultivation

Although Bill C-45 is silent on whether outdoor cultivation should be permitted for personal or commercial production, I will add that I think it is important that this be included – or at least not excluded. There are significant environmental costs to indoor production including electricity usage. Outdoor production can mitigate some of these problems, and should be considered an option. For small scale personal cultivation, careful placement of four plants out of view of neighbours is a simple and reasonable security measure. For larger commercial production, I am sure Health Canada will mandate sufficient security requirements to protect outdoor crops from theft. I note that the majority of cannabis grown by the US government for research purposes at the University of Mississippi is outdoors.

Summary

In conclusion, personal cultivation is an important aspect of legalization that enables our basic human connection to the plant world. I speak for both the cannabis plant and for gardeners when I say legalization without personal cultivation is a half measure. The exclusion of outdoor cultivation for personal use and at commercial scale is also unnecessary.

Thank-you again for the opportunity to speak here today. I’d be happy to answer your questions.


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