serious about criminal law
|Keith Borer Consultants Cannabis Update 2020
Cannabis cultivation remains a prolific
crime, from small, domestic set-ups to large, commercial ventures. For large-scale
operations, the logic is that it is a low-risk, high-gain business with an insatiable
customer base. Smaller-scale facilities may be more likely to produce cannabis for
personal use. Whilst guidelines exist for the number of plants which constitutes
such an approach, this can be misleading and will be explored in more detail
Yield is still one of the biggest
components of a cannabis case. Thus, before we think about what products could be
made from a cannabis harvest, it should always be considered whether or not the
This is often not the case with the
over-simplified approach taken, such as simply counting plants and multiplying
by a yield figure. The quality and
significance of the evidence is very much related to the experience of the person
making the assessment.
Here is a list of the main factors
to consider which would likely impact the potential yield of a cannabis crop:
Are all the plants female or at
Issue: Only female plants
produce skunk cannabis. If grown from
cuttings, the plants are most likely female, even if flowering is not apparent. The presence of male plants could be detrimental
to the scale and quality of the harvest, but some growers choose seeds to try
different strains or to include male plants, for example, if crossbreeding experimentation
was intended. In such circumstances, gender
can only be investigated by microscopic examination with a trained eye.
Will all the plants thrive?
Issue: Barring catastrophic
events, well-established plants should thrive if properly cared for. If recent cuttings form part of the crop,
these cannot be considered viable entities until roots have formed. Such observations
may or may not have been made and reported by the Prosecution expert. Even with established plants, consideration
has to be given to any apparent diseases or signs of failure, and the suitability
of the growing arrangements for successful onward development.
Is there adequate space for the plants?
Issue: As cannabis plants
grow, they take up more space. Grow-tents or domestic rooms have limited
capacity. As such, the available space has
to be considered against the number of plants expected to mature in that area. Overcrowding
could lead to a reduction in the yield per plant. Propagators can typically accommodate
over a hundred juvenile plants/cuttings. Such a number would likely fill several
domestic rooms. Are such facilities available? These factors are frequently not
considered in reports that we see.
Is there adequate timing
Issue: This is linked to
the space issue above.A cannabis plant has a typical indoor growing cycle
of around 3-4 months. Flowering and non-flowering
plants cannot successfully occupy the same growing room. Dependant on the
nature of the set-up, it is possible that some plants need to be transferred into
different growing environments and if the space is currently occupied by other plants
then the follow-on crop has been mistimed and there is nowhere for the plants
to go. This factor is rarely considered.
Is the lighting adequate for
the suggested yield?
Issue: The type, number
and power of the lights present all impact on the development and potential yield
of cannabis plants. Light is the only energy
source available for green plants to grow and flower. In short, you only get
out what you put in, so suggested yields may not be feasible in some circumstances
of inadequate lighting. Equally greater yields may be expected if more lighting
than typical is used. The number of
plants alone will not determine the likely yield, and the yield obtained may
not be that typically expected depending on lighting.
Is the level of sophistication
Issue: Most cannabis
growing operations, especially domestic grows, are no more than adequate for purpose.
Nonetheless we have seen experts suggesting a “high level” of sophistication,
even when only expected equipment is present, and who also equate the level of
sophistication with a commercial venture. The reverse may be more likely as it is
the cannabis enthusiast who often has the more specialised equipment rather than
the businessman who takes the more basic and economic approach.
Is the yield correctly valued?
Issue: Street values are
typically applied without justification and grossly over-state the valuation, but
this is a topic for another article.
Cannabis oil products, whether
overtly controlled or believed to be legal, are gaining ever-increasing popularity.
KBC continues to provide advice and reports where sale, possession or even production
of such materials forms part of the case. Some of the concerns are discussed.
What’s new is an explosion of interest
in cannabis products rather than just in the cannabis harvest itself. Such products
are based around extracting the drugs present in cannabis from the plant
material to create a concentrated preparation or, in some instances, to attempt
the production of a non-controlled CBD product. CBD, or cannabidiol, hailed by
many as a panacea, is excepted from the controls of the Misuse of Drugs Act,
but only when fully extracted from cannabis and its controlled components - which
is easier said than done!
The cannabis products typically made
include the following:
Cannabis oil/Rick Simpson oil
– an extraction of the drugs into alcohol which is reduced to form an oil
Butane Honey oil (BHO)
– a gas extraction of the drugs to form a highly-concentrated product
Shatter/wax - variants
of BHO which have been subject to further processing
Rosin – an extraction
using heat and pressure to recover resinous material containing cannabis drugs
CBD oil – a non-controlled
product made by differentially extracting cannabis drug components.
The production of the above materials
has formed the basis of defences in many cases which KBC have reported on over
the past few years. There are many factors
which need exploring in such cases which may impact on mitigation, sentence and
value of a cultivation operation.
The production of CBD oil and Rick
Simpson Oil is sometimes cited for the self-medication of a range of health issues. There is little formal research into the health
benefits of cannabis or its active components, with a few notable exceptions.
Nonetheless, the popular belief in this regard is well-established. The other
products, such as BHO, are often produced only on a small scale by the cannabis
experimenter or connoisseur.
Whilst all of above the products made
tend to be highly concentrated, the amount produced would be only a small fraction
by weight of the starting material. As such, a 2kg potential harvest from a growing
operation would likely result in a few hundred grams of extracted oil. This may impact on the overall view taken by
the Court in respect of production for personal use or commercial venture, sentencing
Whilst specialist equipment is
available to make cannabis products, it is a common misconception that such equipment
is vital. More often only basic household objects are used. Methodologies for production
of these material are readily available on the Internet. As these approaches may
be anecdotal or not scientifically accurate, however, they should be carefully evaluated.
KBC can help. We have expertise in cannabis cultivation cases,
cannabis product manufacture and can assess the validity of a stated methodology,
comment upon potential product yield and offer opinion on the value of such
materials. Cases involving cannabis
cultivation, extract production and use are often complex and easy to
misinterpret. If you have any questions
about your cannabis-related case, please contact us for further advice.
About Keith Borer
Established in 1980, Keith Borer Consultants has grown to over 30 experts, covering all aspects of forensic evidence. They are instructed by solicitors, barristers, insurance companies, review bodies and private individuals. Drugs experts, Julian Dunnill and Richard Brown, can be contacted at the Durham office on 0191 332 4999, whilst Sarah Morley, based at the Huntingdon office, can be contacted on 01480 432 794.