As the government announces its plans for a cannabis referendum, a self-described “cannabis master” who grows and sells marijuana, provides insight into the illegal business he’s running, and what a workable legitimate business model could look like.
It was 23 years ago when Mike* started growing cannabis because he needed to raise funds for a family member’s private surgery. On a benefit at the time, it was one way he could help contribute.
“I then continued to grow cannabis to basically feed and provide for my family. I was on a benefit. That’s putting clothes on a kid’s back, shoes on their feet, all the things they need for school and all the extracurricular things they need.”
Speaking to Checkpoint host Lisa Owen, the East Coast man said it wasn’t long until he found employment.
His partner also works, but he kept growing and selling because they’d struggle with low-paying jobs and rising livings costs if he didn’t.
“We had to still keep hustling just to make ends-meet, just to be able to live a bit more better than struggling and having $30 at the end of the week to try and juggle on food.”
The extra money meant their children didn’t live in poverty and miss out on things other kids did.
He earned about $50,000 in his first year – but said that was small change compared to others.
“There are real growers here, where I come from, that are cracking $200,000 a year to over a million.”
An ounce costs about $250 soon after harvest and could go for as much as $600 over summer.
Mike said he’s wanted to stop selling at times, but there was so much demand – and he’s doing something he genuinely believes helps people.
He’s passionate about the growing process, never uses chemicals or pesticides, and grows different strains tailored to different needs – some help with anxiety, others with nausea.
He said he’s was trying to create a “good, safe product” for “like-minded people”.
“I’m not involved in gangs. A lot of my customers are people like yourself. They’re the general public who don’t want to associate with gangs.”
The government has announced voters will get to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to legalising cannabis in a referendum during the 2020 election. Legislation will be drafted beforehand, and will include an age limit of 20, supply controls and limited home-growing options.
What does Mike think of the referendum?
He’ll be voting yes. If recreational use becomes legal, he wants to be part of the change.
It will allow growers and sellers like him – those he describes as “ninjas or living double lives” – to stop hiding.
He said they'd come out of the woodwork and contribute to a new, legal market. Mike would apply for a licence.
“I would transition myself into the legitimate side of the business because I love growing. I love the whole aspect of growing marijuana, what it is really about and what it can do for people.”
What he does now is illegal, so he’s not paying tax. Instead, he said he donated to charities such as Salvation Army and to local sports clubs. But he’d be happy to pay tax if it’s legalised, saying 20 percent is a “fair” amount. If it’s as high as 50 percent then it would just drive growers back to a black market.
He agrees with an age limit of 20 but says 21 would also suit.
Is he worried it will put him out of business? Not really – he thinks he’s in the perfect position to capitalise on it.
He suggested the government limit the number of growers, suppliers and sellers, so the market didn't get out of control. But if people were allowed to grow it at home, would there still be demand for his services?
“Yes they can grow their own, but who is going to help those people living in a Housing New Zealand house, will HNZ let them grow? Who is going to help people who live in apartments?”
Mike said there would always be demand.
“Anyone can grow cannabis, but only cannabis masters can pull off the desired product that people want.”
*Mike is not his real name.