How the Roots of Cannabis Cultivation Stem from Home-Growers

latin america cannabis grow

By Esteban Rossi I., Ph.D., Analyst, New Frontier Data 

For several decades, a private community of like-minded cannabis cultivators grew the plant in their homes or backyards, taking pains and legal risks to ensure that seeds and cannabis products remained available for adult users and medical patients. Over time, the home-growing community evolved to become urban tribes and grassroots advocates for reform legislation, playing important roles in asserting and defending the legal rights of users, if meanwhile developing new strains which today represent the product frameworks for legitimized markets. 

Legal victories and challenges

In recent years, numerous LatAm jurisdictions including Uruguay, Colombia, and Argentina regulated cannabis cultivation performed at home. In a nutshell, the legal status of the home-growing community hinges on two concepts: the recognition that home cultivation should not be construed as drug trafficking, and on the definition of what personal use entails. Around the world, courts repeatedly acknowledged the rights of individuals to cultivate at home, and so ordered the legislative branch to regulate but accommodate it. Consequently, in those three countries (along with now 19 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C.), users may grow a specified number of plants and carry a proscribed limit of dry cannabis flower.

While users in Uruguay can grow up to six plants and can carry up to 40 grams for personal use, Colombia permits users to cultivate up to 20 plants and carry up to 20 grams, locally known as the minimum dose (i.e., dosis minima).

Yet, legal challenges remain. In some jurisdictions (e.g., Ecuador), home-cultivation for personal use is not forbidden, but there are no clear guidelines protecting users. Such legal ambiguity leaves home-growers and consumers in murky positions. In the absence of precise guidelines, law enforcement has discretionary authority against users. Ecuadorian associations note that the prevailing gray areas create large incentives for corruption since users may be left faced either to pay local law enforcement for their tolerance or face potentially lengthy and costly legal battles. Meanwhile, the state of affairs forces medical users and their families to take risks at home or go to the grey market.

In Chile, though laws allow for home-growing, users still face legal troubles. Rodrigo Barraza became a cause celebre through a public tragedy and a political embarrassment for the government. The local police arrested Barraza for home cultivation though the produce was intended for his son, who suffered from autism and held a medical prescription. After facing 10 months of house arrest, Barraza was unanimously absolved while the case drew considerable media attention across the region.

Chilean cannabis advocates claim that nearly 100 individuals yet face similar legal proceedings. The legal status of home-growers remains a contentious policy issue in each Brazil, Ecuador, Chile, and Paraguay, though numerous legislative initiatives seek to change the dynamics in the near future.

The role of home-growers

Cannabis users have been planting and trading seeds since the beginning of the prohibition era five decades ago. Seed exchanges between Afghanistan, Spain, California, Mexico, and Colombia led to development of numerous strains (including somewhat distinct phenotypes and properties). Subsequently, if quietly and empirically, breeders successfully developed strains with the distinct chemotypes (i.e., cannabinoid profiles) presently available in the global market. In other words, during the last few decades a dispersed community of home-growers took risks to ensure that the genetic diversity of cannabis was maintained and expanded.

As strains are now being characterized using genetic markers and chromatography, it has been discovered that the traditional (i.e., morphological) classification system separating  indicas and sativas does not correspond with chemical profiles. Yet, recent research led by scientists like Anna Schwabe and Ryan Lynch indicates that at least some strains exhibit considerable genetic stability and well-defined chemical characteristics. As molecular research continues to advance, understanding of cannabinoid biosynthesis, too, will improve dramatically.

Business opportunities

In Latin America as in the U.S., dozens of mobile applications (apps) and technology platforms serve home-growers to organize their cultivation tasks, monitor crops, rate their plants and clones, and breed new strains. Interesting examples include (developed in Brazil), as well as releafapp, GrowBuddy, and Canix, among others. The apps allow users to record not only plant features, but also symptoms, uses, and effects. As the platforms and their databases grow, they will predictably generate valuable information for research and commercial purposes to benefit cultivators growing at home or producing on a massive marketing scale.

These apps are also used in cannabis cups, where growers compete in various categories before an expert panel of users. Cannabis cups, like Copa Farallones, take place regularly in Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia. Moreover, the most thoroughly tested business model in the cannabis industry consists on growing and selling flower for medical uses. High quality flower sells well in clubs and dispensaries. Figures from Uruguay, Florida and Spain demonstrate that this business model is easy to monitor and profitable. In conclusion, the quiet and resilient home-growing community will likely continue to push legislation forward and create new opportunities for entrepreneurs.

*New Frontier Data is an independent and objective data repository and does not have any financial interests in any of the companies mentioned above. Information reported here should not be taken as a commercial endorsement of any kind.