Published February 21, 2018
Thanks to a new reportage that explored the extent of the cannabis network in the capital area, RÚV reporters found out that cannabis growth and production carried out in the city has now almost completely overtaken foreign imports.
According to data provided by SÁÁ, the National Centre of Addiction Medicine in Iceland, about 700 people a year look to the Centre for assistance in dealing with cannabis addiction. 80% of them are under 20 years of age.
In the past few months, RÚV reporters have talked to various cannabis growers and visited grow rooms scattered around town. The common denominators are various: the men in question usually have both a job and a family and they often rent offices in work buildings to accommodate their workshops. These grow rooms are not so large that they attract attention, but large enough to employ more than one individual.
These are no hobbyists, but oftentimes they are also not in need of the extra money. They’re educated, they have a good job, and yet they’re risking everything by doing something that is by all means illegal.
Just trying to help
One of the men interviewed, whom we’ll call Siggi, explains that he went into growing cannabis because of a family member who was diagnosed with cancer a decade ago. In the hopes of finding a way to alleviate the pain, he opened his workshop and kept it running ever since.
“I’m doing this even though I have a good job and I’m in a good place in society,” Siggi explains. “I’m just trying to help the people I know. I think if enough people try it, they’ll realise there isn’t as much to fear as they think.”
Siggi’s main responsibility is clearly to maintain the supply, but he also sees his job as a way to break the wall of prejudice. His is a kind of civil activism—a silent campaign that aims to push through some changes in the law. “I know there are a lot of people who end up in trouble with weed,” Siggi admits. “But if we were actually using those criteria we would also have banned alcohol a long time ago.”
Like growing tomatoes
While talking to Siggi, the reporters also got the opportunity to check out his grow rooms. It turns out that growing cannabis isn’t a hard job at all: in fact, you can get by with a mix of YouTube videos and a handful of tools that are easy to find in local stores.
“Growing cannabis isn’t that much different from growing tomatoes. In fact they’re often talked about as being the same plant,” Siggi explains. “I’d guess that those who go to these shops and buy these tools for legal purposes are in the minority. The majority of the turnover is going into cannabis.”
Siggi also explains that one can adhere to a certain lingo when shopping in certain Reykjavík stores and according to the kind of vocabulary that you use, the staff will know whether or not you’re talking about actual tomatoes or cannabis. To double-check Siggi’s claim, the reporters went into one of these stores with a hidden camera and sure enough, the staff offered all kind of assistance and advice. “You can try to spend as little as possible, but if you do this properly you can get a lot more back with the first crop,” a member of staff said, pointing out that by investing on high quality equipment one could see a revenue of 200,000 ISK (about 2,000 USD) from the first harvest.
Taxes, pensions and job protection
It goes without saying that if done properly and over long period of time, growing cannabis can become quite a remunerative business. Managing the finances can’t be easy when you can’t put this money in a bank account or a pension fund without attracting unwanted attention. Siggi has a lot of things to think about, although he’s not to worried about the police targeting small grow rooms like his.
Admittedly, he is only a small pawn in the game, so it’s not that difficult to make sure his job and his private life are completely separated. However, this being an illegal business, violence is not uncommon. “There are all sorts of things that happen in this world that are not desirable in a society,” he explains. “They’re just a pure and direct consequence of activities of this sort.”
For Siggi, legalisation could easily become a solution to solve both these financial and social issues. “A lot of people who do this are all for legalisation. These are all people with families who would like to pay their taxes, pay into their pension funds and even get some job protection,” he says. “I’m hoping that at some point I’ll be able to tell my family that what I’m doing is finally legal and that I had something to do with it.”