Harmful corporate practices: A case study of the emerging legal cannabis industry

Research Period

November 15th 2018- November 14th 2024


Doctorate Ghent University



Key Words

Cannabis industry, organisational crime, harmful corporate practices


After legalizing cannabis in parts of the United States, Canada and Uruguay, the debate on legalizing cannabis is ongoing. If this evolution pursues in Europe, Europe has the potential at becoming the largest cannabis market. This worldwide trend of cannabis legalization ensures that other companies see the cannabis market as a growing industry. It has many similarities with other large, commercially driven industries and is a profitable business today. The market is closely observed by other industries that have the opportunity to expand their market through the legalization of both recreational and medical cannabis. The legalization of cannabis gives opportunities to companies, including tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies that see potential in the investment.

Regulation policy should ideally be aimed at maximizing profits and reducing costs associated with a particular drug policy. Values, such as protecting public health, have a legitimate role in determining an approach. It can be argued that private organisations have commercial interests, rather than preventing harmful use.

When studying this phenomenon, two disciplines are combined. Both a criminological, as an economic perspective are used. Criminological frameworks, that studies malpractices by businesses, can clarify why large companies or industries conduct harmful behaviour. Business organizations act within a structure of a developed capitalist society and in a culture of mutual competition whereby motivations, opportunities and rationalisations can be created for malpractices. In addition to these criminological models, economic theories can be applied to explain why, within a specific economic context, industries such as the tobacco, alcohol and pharmaceutical companies are developing a culture receptive to corporate misconduct.


The research has a qualitative research design as its starting point. This doctoral research aims to view the emerging legal cannabis industry as a case. By means of the literature study and based on the findings about the practices of the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, the aim is to see whether the same practices will occur within the cannabis industry. It has been decided to complete an exploratory sector study in combination with a case study of selected companies within the cannabis sector.

Phases data collection:

  • Online & document research
  • Participative observation
  • In-depth interviews