The market and profit analysis of the illicit indoor cannabis cultivation and trade (MARCANT)

Research period



Belspo (Federal Research Programme Drugs)


Frédérique BAWIN
Charlotte COLMAN
Letizia PAOLI


Indoor cannabis cultivation, cannabis trade, market analysis, profit analysis


In Belgium, in the legal settlement of illegal indoor cannabis growing and trading activities, the obtained capital gains are always seized. In order to determine these profits in a reliable way, solid estimates of both the flower bud yield of the cannabis plants and the sales prices and the applied price setting mechanisms are needed. However, the police and judiciary in both Belgium and the Netherlands currently use outdated yield, price and profit models, which also differ considerably in the two countries.

The MARCANT project therefore aims to develop a new, robust cannabis revenue and profit model that can be used in both Belgium and the Netherlands. To this end, the project will produce scientifically accurate estimates of the bud yield of cannabis plants from different cannabis plantations (small-scale/amateur to large-scale/high-tech) typically found in Belgium and the Netherlands. The project will also make reliable estimates of the prices, turnover and profits that occur at the different levels (plantations, wholesale, medium and retail) in the cannabis value chain and the factors that influence these prices, turnover and profits.

A three-pronged approach will be used to create a scientifically grounded model for profits in the illegal indoor cannabis cultivation and trade. In cooperation with the Belgian and Dutch police, confiscated indoor cannabis plantations in both countries will be monitored and characterised by systematically registering a number of cultivation parameters (plantation size, plant density, growth substrate used, size of the plant pots, and presence of water-cooled air conditioners, CO2 fertilisation, light intensity of assimilation lamps, and/or light intensity and spectrum of LED lights). In addition, a number of cultivation experiments will be set up, in which the yield effect of new cultivation techniques (e.g. CO2 fertilisation, increased light intensity and/or spectrum) in combination with currently widely used, popular cannabis varieties will be investigated. The results of the plantation characterisation in combination with those of the cultivation experiments will then be used to build a state-of-the-art statistical ecophysiological cannabis yield model.
Finally, the MARCANT project will map pricing mechanisms, costs, turnover and profits at all levels of the illicit cannabis value chain. Information on purchase and sale prices, price changes and costs will be collected through surveys and interviews with people active at the different levels of the cannabis value chain and analysis of cannabis forums on the clearnet.
Until now, most forensic research work on cannabis cultivation and trafficking has focused on the professionally organised segments, often based on police data and the perspective of law enforcement agencies. However, the MARCANT project will also investigate, through an anonymous internet survey, the less visible segments (including small-scale hobby growers) of the illicit cannabis sector. This will provide additional information on cannabis flower yields, prices, pricing mechanisms, (technical) cultivation aspects, varieties, etc. This information will be incorporated into the cannabis profit model and will be used in the design of a procedure to adequately determine cannabis yields and profits (see below). Furthermore, interviews with growers and other cannabis suppliers, together with the analysis of information obtained from specialised internet forums, will provide new insights into how large-scale cannabis growers set cannabis prices, try to maximise their profits and how they respond to recent developments in cannabis cultivation and trade.
The project will conclude with a focus group discussion with law enforcement personnel from both Belgium and the Netherlands. The outcome of this discussion should lead to a set of recommendations for the collection and use of data by both police and judiciary in both countries. Subsequently, a practical toolbox will be designed that will enable police and justice to make an adequate cannabis profit estimate based on the data that can be easily collected from cannabis plantations and/or from interrogations with suspected cannabis growers and dealers.
MARCANT provides an important interdisciplinary contribution to the scarce scientific knowledge on yield and profit in the illegal cannabis cultivation and trade. Moreover, the outdated yield models currently used in Belgium and the Netherlands most likely lead to significant underestimations of the capital gains actually made by illicit cannabis growers and dealers. The MARCANT project has important implications for the illicit cannabis sector. More accurate confiscation of the acquired wealth will remove large financial flows from the criminal economy. This can be expected to lead to a reduction in illicit cannabis cultivation and trafficking activities, and consequently to a reduction in the environmental, public health and safety risks inherent in them.