Bonsai trees made out of cannabis are a particularly satisfying way to grow the plant, too.

Home Growing a Cannabis Revolution

WORDS BY JACKIE BRYANT

PHOTOGRAPHS BY Philippe Pagé/Cannabonzai 

Most people are focused on smoking cannabis on 4/20, the plant’s (horti)cultural holiday. The Frontline dives into what many activists are focused on, instead: growing weed at home.

“Outside my work, the thing I care most about is gardening,” George Orwell wrote in 1940.

 

The fiercely serious essayist, author, critic, and journalist—known best for his searing criticisms of totalitarianism and support of democratic socialism—had a soft side firmly rooted in the natural world. Orwell’s Roses, a book published by Rebecca Solnit in 2021, detailed his lifelong relationship with plants, especially flowers, and contrasted and contextualized it with his dedication to critiquing politics. 

 

What struck me most about Orwell’s Roses was Solnit’s quiet delight that someone so dedicated to dissecting the man-made world and its horrors could also find great purpose in tending to nature. She offered this juxtaposition as proof that joy is indeed an act of resistance—and interpreted Orwell’s tendencies as just that. His affinity for plant life seems like a natural antidote to the intensity of man’s manufactured problems. 

 

That she considered Orwell’s plant growing to be a political antidote reminded me of cannabis growing, in particular. In my professional life, I write about cannabis culture and business, and in my personal life, I grow and consume cannabis. The leap from one side to the other is far less great than Orwell’s, but seeing as the cannabis plant’s very existence is politicized and criminalized, it’s fair to say that the act of merely growing it serves in stark opposition to everything around it. 

 

Nobody knows this better than people who actually grow cannabis. As I gaze out across my garden—which boasts peppers, tomatoes, fruit trees, succulents, and more—my cannabis plants always stick out to me as something different, something illicit. Cannabis is the only plant in my garden whose existence from seed to harvest is fully criminalized. But while commercial cannabis growing is enjoying some measure of success thanks to legalization across the globe, those who grow for personal use like myself are still fighting an uphill battle. 

The meditative art of cannabonsai.

Now that billion-dollar companies are growing weed across the United States, they have kicked up lobbying efforts, taking a growing role in shaping new drug policy. In general, these entities don’t want people growing their own—if I can provide my own supply, why would I need to buy it from a company? Industry groups, like the New York Medical Cannabis Industry organization, have fiercely opposed letting patients and consumers grow their own cannabis in states across the nation.

 

In New Jersey, home growing remains illegal. The penalty is five years in prison and a $25,000 fine for growing even one plant. This criminalization of cannabis continues the harmful war on drugs that has disproportionately targeted communities of color. These rules also completely ignore the fact that people grow weed for a variety of reasons (some of which are medical) and have been doing so for many thousands of years.

“Growing weed, vegetables, flowers, and other plants reconnects us back to ourselves because we are nature.”

MENNLAY AGGREY
AUTHOR OF 'THE ART OF WEED BUTTER'

Limiting people’s ability to grow their own sustenance or medicine is deeply unnatural to the human experience. 

 

“Through experience and research, I am reminded that Black people across the diaspora are inherently agrarian,” said Mennlay Aggrey, a Mexico City-based author and entrepreneur who wrote the seminal book on cooking with weed, The Art of Weed Butter. “[Cultivating cannabis] is an Indigenous practice for me.”

 

Aggrey co-runs the medicinal herb brand Xula and has decades of experience growing cannabis. The way she sees it, there’s an innate human desire to cultivate the land we inhabit. 

 

“This is by and large true for all peoples,” Aggrey said. “As humans and living creatures, it is securely written into our DNA to connect to the Earth—to the natural world. Growing weed, vegetables, flowers, and other plants reconnects us back to ourselves because we are nature. We are also what grows and dies—we are also what needs to be nourished, cared for, and deserve to have our growth witnessed.” 

 

Aggrey explained that gardening and growing life can help build humans’ self esteem “as individuals who have something to give to the Earth.” And, like using cannabis, tending the soil can also reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. “I believe it’s linked to the fact that it gives us something to do that gets us outside of our brains and into an act of service,” she said.

 

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Like myself, Aggrey feels deeply that growing our own weed (as well as our own food) is “one of the most paramount ways to remove ourselves from an unjust system of capitalism,” which echoes the very real struggle between homegrowers and corporate and government entities at present. She explained that “maintaining agency over this right to provide for ourselves in our own way is extremely important and powerful,” while adding that, if someone is a regular cannabis user, growing one’s own reduces the cost of purchasing and allows them the ability to “control how, when, and what you cultivate, and it gives you a sense of freedom and choice while giving you a deeper connection to the plant and its cycle of life,” she said.

 

“Creating our own supply essentially challenges the extremely rigged legal weed system and allows us to directly receive the medicine we need without the middle man—whether they are the government or the actual middle man,” Aggrey said while laughing. “This also allows us as individuals to decrease our dependence and amplifies the issues of political control over our own bodies.”

 

Aside from the personal connection to ourselves, our communities, and our land when we grow cannabis, the commercialization and politicization of cannabis cultivation also inadvertently exacerbates the climate crisis by keeping it underground and inside. 

 

Growing cannabis was more or less forced to move indoors during the height of the U.S. war on drugs in the mid-late 1980s and 1990s. Though the plant grows just fine (and arguably better) outdoors—as it did for millennia—growers took operations into covered and climate-controlled greenhouses to evade law enforcement. That’s where the majority of cultivation takes place today, bolstered by state laws that require each state to produce its own cannabis despite the ability of states like California to grow more than enough for everyone using sunlight alone. Indoor operations, on the other hand, are extremely energy intensive. Indoor growing is responsible for 80% of the plant’s overall carbon footprint.

 

It’s clear that growing cannabis outdoors and for ourselves is not only better for our bodies and minds—it’s also better for the planet.

Three different ways a cannabis bonsai tree may grow.

This April to kick off the cannabis planting season, I laid out on my sunny dining room table seeds that were a cross between a calming and a creative strain. There, they will pop before heading to my yard where they will grow and bloom to full maturity, at which point I’ll harvest, dry, trim, and eventually smoke the buds. 

 

Anyone can grow cannabis—the nickname “weed” exists for a reason—but it takes a rigorous attention to detail and a slightly obsessive attitude to grow actually good cannabis. So, to get my weed to the high standards I prefer, I will need to settle in for a several-months-long period of painstaking daily care. I live in California, where weed is legal to grow and sell, and I am allowed to cultivate up to six plants for “personal use,” per state regulations. 

 

Still, there is no shortage of weed here. Why bother growing it when I could just drive five minutes down the road and pick up some that’s already high quality?

 

I grow because of the hope I feel as a human on Earth, one who is still chugging along. Like Orwell with his roses, I’m seeking an antidote to the pain of our created world through the plant. Smoking weed helps, of course, but growing it is a tangible connection to the land and all it provides, which is something no law or person can ever truly take away, try as hard as they might.

 

“I’ve found that the act of growing my own weed—I’m talking windowsill weed, nothing fancy, no ballasts or lights—somehow always connects me to the community,” Aggrey said, echoing my own beliefs. “Whether offline or online, it gives us a place and activity to connect over. Herb has always been that for me.”

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