image: Raph Achache
According to Greg, My First Grow is a novelty product for adults, which includes hemp seeds and information surrounding the cannabis plant and hemp itself. “It was a creative way for me to highlight how ridiculous I find the laws that surround hemp and cannabis in the UK”, he says, urging me to note that he is not trying to promote the recreational use of cannabis in young children. “Of course I’m not saying that kids should be taught how to grow weed and roll a joint, because what’s the use in the plant recreationally?” Instead, Greg wants to educate the masses on the social, economic and environmental benefits of using hemp as a viable, renewable resource. To clarify, he’s not about getting kids high.
While hemp and weed both come from the same genus of cannabis, they have entirely different uses. This is based on the properties of the end products. THC is the property in cannabis products that makes the user feel high, but that is also effective in treating illnesses such as Crohn’s disease, arthritis and some cancers. Hemp has a low THC potency, at around 0.02%. Weed, has a higher THC level – usually between 5-20%.
“You can smoke it if you wanted to,” says Greg. “But it’d be the same as growing rosemary and smoking that. Marijuana and hemp are the terms that are assigned to the end use of the cannabis plant. Hemp is used for textiles, food, and products that are made out of the stalk and seed. Marijuana, or weed, is usually used for recreational or medicinal cannabis – the stuff that you use the flower or ‘bud’ for.”
For Greg, the motivating factor to dig deeper into the plant came when a colleague revealed he treated his mother with cannabis oil after she was diagnosed with cancer. He “fell down a rabbit hole” and began researching the use of cannabis oil to treat chronic illness. But it wasn’t until he attended Product Earth, a UK-based hemp and alternative lifestyle festival in Peterborough, that the drive to join the pro-cannabis campaign really kicked in. “I met a little boy, Rico Turner, his mum, and a guy called Jeff Ditchfield from Bud Buddies. Jeff is an amazing guy who produces high THC cannabis oil and gives it to his patients – a lot of whom are children. Rico had stage four terminal leukemia. His parents were told to take him home and make him comfortable as he only had a few weeks left. They weren’t gonna have that. They looked on the internet, came across Jeff, and started treating Rico with cannabis oil. Within a few weeks they noticed changes. They went for more scans, and there was a reduction in the cancer.
“The kid is thirteen now and has been in remission for years. He still takes maintenance doses to keep it away, and to speak to and see him, he looks pretty high. He’s not sedated, he’s chatting and having a laugh, but you can tell that he’s high. But what’s the alternative? Letting him die? I’m not a parent, but if I was, I know what I’d do. That was when it became really real. This is more real than anything else that I’ve been involved in.”
While the thought of stoned children is enough to unsettle even the most liberal mind, it is hard to argue with the choice of Rico’s parents, and many others like them, when it comes to considering the alternative. On Greg’s recommendation, I watched the Vice documentary, Stoned Kids, that highlights the successful use of cannabis as a medicine in young children. It features a young girl called Mykayla – known as Brave Mykayla in the cannabis community – and her family in Oregon, who have been growing their own cannabis to treat her cancer. And it’s working. To watch the show, it is clear that she was a very poorly little girl, who is now going from strength to strength thanks to the high THC cannabis oil she uses. In Oregon, it is legal to grow cannabis for personal or medicinal use, meaning that cannabis is regulated, and you know exactly what strain of the plant you’ll be growing every time, what its various effect are, and how it makes you feel.
That being said, there was something disturbing about watching an eight-year-old child wandering around a room filled to the brim with cannabis. I had to ask myself why, if it’s the thing that is keeping her alive.
“A lot of the knowledge people have about cannabis is based on yellowed journalism and propaganda” says Greg, and there’s a large element of truth in that. We’re told that cannabis is a dangerous drug that causes psychosis, schizophrenia and laziness in users. A drug for hippies and musicians. Which isn’t completely false, but it’s summat our Greg is not happy about. “Programmes like DARE only teach kids about cannabis as a psychosis-inducing drug. They don’t know that you can treat cancer with it. Or build a house out of it. Or a car. Or put it in door panels like Mercedes and BMW do.” He’s got a point.
image: My First Grow website
The campaign to legalise and decriminalise cannabis in the UK is gaining weight, with Osborne’s financial advisors highlighting the tax benefits we would accrue from legalising cannabis, and an online petition for MPs to debate the matter reaching 220,000 signatures. Greg is sceptical, believing that thanks to a lack of education, the UK is simply not ready for legalisation. “If it went to a vote tomorrow, people would vote no because they aren't aware of the benefits of the plant. More time needs to be spent educating people about the plant, rather than lobbying politicians.”
That’s not to say he’s not all for legalisation in the future, and not just so that every Tom, Dick and Harry can bun a zoot without the fear of being subjected to community service. “I massively support the medicinal side – if people could grow their own medicine, that’d be fantastic. For me, though, it’s more the agricultural, economic side – growing hemp for textiles and fuel. We’re running out of oil. We go to war over that shit. Pretty much anything that is made out of, or uses oil to run, can switch to hemp oil instead.”
“I think that’s going to be more beneficial to future generations than legalising it for recreational use. I do see the benefits for the economy if it were to be legal, but the reason you’re legalising it is so that people can get high. That’s fair enough, but to make it easier to grow a crop that adds genuine value to the world, I support that over anything. It’s one of the most resourceful plants on the planet.”
For now, though, it’s still illegal to germinate and grow hemp seeds in the UK without a government-approved licence. So how has Greg managed to sell a product that appears to encourage consumers to grow their own cannabis plants? “Firstly, I’m not encouraging anyone to grow the plants, because that would be encouraging them to break the law, and I would never do that. This is an educational, novelty product.”
Surely he’s jumping through some kind of legal loophole that allows him to sell ‘cannabis grow kits’ and seeds, to the public? “The term ‘loophole’ suggests that I’ve done something wrong. I haven’t. I spoke to lawyers throughout all of this. I was very aware that buying and selling hemp seeds was not illegal. The hemp seeds in the product were bought from Asda. Actually, I don’t know if I’m allowed to resell those hemp seeds – that’s probably the most illegal thing I’m doing.”
Greg insists that the kit is a novelty product for adults, so why has he chosen to market it at those with fewer candles on the cake? It seems like a whole load of controversy for controversy’s sake. “Obviously it‘s to be controversial. As a marketer – that’s my background – I know how to create clickbait” he says. And in his defence, it is a pretty slick marketing technique. The website has been shared thousands of times online, but not always in a positive light. Greg puts it down to our anxiousness, as a country, with the word cannabis, and the fact that the name of the product links it to children. “The simple fact that I’ve mentioned children in the same sentence as cannabis makes people frightened and scared that I’m doing something evil, that I’m a really bad person.”
Indeed, there has been backlash from both those who oppose the legalisation of cannabis and those who support it, who claim that Greg is promoting the use of cannabis in young children. Greg’s response? “I think if anyone says this product promotes the recreational use of cannabis in children, they should refer to the Einstein quote: ‘Condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance’. They’ve not looked at the product or the website, so they’ve not seen that it’s hemp.”
It may seem surprising that those who sit themselves firmly in the pro-legalisation camp would have had such an averse reaction to Greg’s educational campaign. Perhaps it’s that they don’t understand the product or, as Mr Lonsdale mentioned, haven’t done their research properly. Greg takes the stance that the issue lies within the centre of their campaign style. “I think that when they’re lobbying, a lot of pro-legalisation campaigners use the argument that legalisation would mean cannabis is regulated like alcohol and tobacco, and therefore it would reduce the use in children. That’s true. But I think if you’re just saying, ‘Look, you can keep this dangerous drug away from children’ then you’ve still got their mentality. They’re still talking about cannabis like it’s a drug. It’s not. It’s a plant. It has medicinal and economic value across the globe.”
The kits are available to buy from the website for £3.99, which Greg says is virtually cost. You might be wondering how he plans to sustain a successful business plan if his profit margins are so small, but for Greg, the money isn’t important. “This was never meant to be a multi-million pound business, it was always a creative experiment that was going to spark debate. Which it has done. It could be a sustainable business if I wanted it to be, but it’s not about that.”
That’s not to say that My First Grow is the end to Greg’s desire to destigmatise cannabis, but he’s keeping his cards close to his chest for now. “I am going to pursue other areas in this sector, but there’s no solid plan yet. I know the next thing I do will explore the possibilities of building the hemp industry within the UK.”
Whether or not we’ll see My First Grow kits on the shelves of major supermarkets and department stores in the future remains to be seen. But Greg’s got fire in his belly, and we have a feeling he’s not gonna rest until the job’s been done. For that, you’ve gotta hand it to the kid.
My First Grow website