Judicial response to illicit indoor cannabis production and sales activities consists of confiscating the profits growers obtained by selling their produce. To reliably estimate these profits, well-founded estimates of both cannabis crop yields and sales prices (mechanisms) are required. Today, police and jurisdiction in Belgium and the Netherlands use different and outdated models to estimate yield, sales prices and thus profits of illicit cannabis growers.
The MARCANT project will therefore design a new, updated and robust cannabis yield model that can be applied in both Belgium and the Netherlands. More specifically, the project will provide a scientifically accurate estimate of the cannabis yield which is currently obtained from different types (small-scale to largescale high-tech) of indoor cannabis cultivation in Belgium and the Netherlands. Furthermore, MARCANT will estimate prices, revenues and profits at the main levels of the Belgian cannabis supply chain, i.e., “farmgate,” wholesale, middle and retail level, study the factors influencing these prices, revenues and profits.
Scientifically sound yield estimates will be made using a triple approach. In collaboration with Belgian and Dutch police, confiscated indoor cannabis plantations in both countries will be monitored and characterized by systematically recording a number of growth parameters (including plantation size, plant density, substrates and plant containers used, CO2-fertilization, assimilation lamp power and/or LED lights). Secondly, indoor cannabis cultivation experiments will be set up in which more light will be shed on the effect of novel cultivation techniques (including CO2-fertilization, increased assimilation lamp power and/or LED lights) in combination with the most popular cannabis strains, on cannabis yield. Results of plantation characterization and cultivation experiments will be used to design a state-of-the-art statistical eco-physiological cannabis yield model.
Thirdly, pricing mechanisms, costs, revenues and profits at all indoor cannabis supply chain levels will be assessed. Information on purchase and sale prices, mark-ups and costs will be collected through surveys and interviews with individuals who are active in the different levels of the cannabis market (production, wholesale, middle-market and retail), and through analysis of clearnet cannabis forums.
Until now, most empirical work has focused on large-scale, commercially oriented and professionally organized segments of the cannabis industry, often based on police data and the perspective of law enforcement agencies. Our study will also include an anonymous web survey to study less visible segments of the illicit cannabis production sector (including small-scale cannabis growers). These additional data on yield and prices/pricing, technical aspects of cannabis cultivation, varieties, etc. – will be used to further inform the design of an adequate procedure to estimate indoor cannabis price and yield (see further). Moreover, interviews with growers and other suppliers, as well as the analysis of specialized internet forums will give novel insight on large-scale cannabis suppliers’ efforts to set the prices and maximize their revenues and profits and their reactions to recent developments in the illicit cannabis market.
The project will conclude with a focus group discussion with law enforcement stakeholders from Belgium and the Netherlands. The outcome of this focus group discussion will be the basis to formulate hands-on recommendations for data collection and use for police and judiciary in both countries. A practical toolbox will then be designed which will allow law enforcers to perform an adequate cannabis profit (production and trade) analysis based on data that can be straightforwardly collected from the seized plantations and/or judicial hearings of the suspected growers and dealers at different levels (e.g., production, wholesale, middle-level and retail) of the cannabis supply chain.
MARCANT will provide important interdisciplinary contributions to the scarce scientific knowledge on cannabis yield and profits. Furthermore, as the presently used illicit indoor cannabis yield and profit estimation models for Belgium and the Netherlands have become obsolete, they most probably lead to significant underestimations of illicit profits gained by cannabis growers and dealers. MARCANT will therefore have important repercussions on the criminal cannabis sector. More accurate seizures of the profits gained from cannabis cultivation and trade, will drain substantial amounts of money from the criminal economy. It can be expected that this will lead to reducing illicit indoor cannabis growing and dealing operations and therefore to reduced potential environmental, health and safety risks that are often linked to them.