For more than ten-thousand years, humans have cultivated the Cannabis plant for its wide-ranging benefits. Whether it was for medicinal uses or fiber for building materials, the Cannabis plant has proven to be a hearty plant with a complex chemical makeup that can vary tremendously in physical size, chemistry, and appearance. Furthermore, these physical and chemical signatures of a plant’s genetics can be expressed by a knowledgeable cultivator through the various conditions under which the Cannabis is grown. This is the essence of the indoor cultivation revolution.
Nearly all of the Cannabis consumed in the medical dispensaries, especially the flower, are grown indoors under artificial lights. This is mainly because the Cannabis grown indoors from cultivars has “bag appeal,” with the right combination of appearance and smell that resonates with consumers. But the majority of the Cannabis grown in this country is grown outdoors due to the prohibitive costs of indoor cultivation. This is especially true when certain organic chemicals are being stripped out of the biomass to be used in another product such as concentrates, edibles, or tinctures. In such cases, growers are concerned with obtaining the greatest amount of Cannabis at the least expensive price to create the desired product potency.
But cost isn’t the only reason why the cultivation of Cannabis has come indoors. Cannabis, as an agricultural commodity, has unique attributes that distinguish it from alcohol and tobacco. It is relatively easy to grow and does not require industrial processing. Cannabis can be produced anywhere by just about anyone. It is grown throughout the country, in backyards, closets, attics, basements, and warehouses. In fact, growing Cannabis indoors has never been easier. The technology and equipment needed to grow Cannabis is legal and widely available, and the information about how to grow is equally so.
Which brings us to the elephant in the room. Why hasn’t home cultivation of Cannabis been permitted or encouraged by States more widely. Thirty-three States and the District of Columbia have adopted some form of medical Cannabis legislation. Eleven States have outright legalized the use of Cannabis by adults over 21 years of age. But only sixteen States and the District of Columbia permit some form of home cultivation – even for medical patients. Maryland specifically does not permit home cultivation – even for medical patients. Why is the simple act of planting a Cannabis plant that grows virtually anywhere so controversial?
Most agricultural crops throughout the world are grown solely outdoors (e.g., grapes, grain, etc.). In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that cannabis was exclusively grown outside as well. That changed, in part, because of the “War on Drugs” launched in the 1980’s and the need for illicit growers to avoid detection by surveillance helicopters and police. Indoor cannabis cultivation took root in the United States during the 1980s when the Reagan administration committed money and resources to federal Cannabis raids. Frequent law enforcement raids that targeted outdoor gardens inadvertently helped to jump-start a cottage industry of innovative products for growing marijuana indoors—including nutrients, soil amendments, special lights, and various equipment to control temperature and moisture. Cannabis, a versatile botanical that can thrive under a 24-hour light cycle, adapted well to the new indoor environment.
But don’t take my word for it. The Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) own data from 2018 confirms it. According to the DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Statistical Report from 2018, the agency and its law enforcement partners confiscated an estimated 2.82 million marijuana plants nationwide– a 17 percent decline from the agency’s totals and a 66 percent decline since 2016. On the other hand, while the total number of Cannabis plants seized by the DEA fell in 2018, the seizures of indoor cannabis plants nearly doubled – rising from 304,000 plants in 2017 to just under 600,000 in 2018.
Regardless, it is clear that indoor cultivation offers benefits to consumers that cannot be obtained from an outdoor grow. These benefits are crucial for anyone seeking to use Cannabis as a medicine. These benefits include the ability to cultivate year-round free from weather and adverse conditions (e.g., cold, bugs, rot, etc.); control over growing conditions (e.g., light, soil, nutrients, CO2, etc.); product standardization and uniformity; and “bag appeal.” And while indoor growing may continue to be more expensive, current trends seem to indicate that it will continue to have a significant impact on the world’s cultivation of the Cannabis plant.