Independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers is today launching a campaign to tackle cannabis cultivation in the UK, a growing crime which has seen a 15% increase in cannabis factories in 2011/12.
This week Crimestoppers and police forces across the country will be distributing "scratch and sniff" cards to the public to educate and inform them about the signs to spot and detect cannabis farms by recognising the specific smell of growing cannabis. The cards contain an element that replicates the smell of cannabis in its growing state.
Hotspot areas targeted in this campaign include West and South Yorkshire, London, Greater Manchester and Avon & Somerset, which have all been identified in an ACPO report as areas with the highest number of cannabis farms in the UK. With nearly 1,800 cannabis farms found, West Yorkshire ranked the highest of all areas where cannabis farms were identified by ACPO across 2010/2012. South Yorkshire ranked second across the UK with over 1,600 found, London was the fourth highest with over 1,200 cannabis cultivation properties located in the same period.
Crimestoppers recognizes that drugs crimes not only affect individual users but the safety of communities with around half of criminal groups in the UK being involved in drug trafficking and distribution.
The UK National Problem Profile report on Commercial Cannabis Cultivation produced in 2012 identified that commercial or industrial properties are being used less and there has been a significant move towards residential dwellings over multiple sites to grow cannabis plants. This brings the issue of organised crime into our communities. There has been an increase in acquisitive crime, violence and the use of firearms linked to cannabis farms, alongside the knock on effects of organised criminals using income generated from cannabis trafficking to fund a range of other criminal activities. As a class B drug, supplying cannabis in the UK can lead to a 14 year prison sentence.
The public often also suffer financially through increased energy costs as a result of cannabis farms. The amount of energy theft is unclear but OFGEM reports that some estimate it costs the UK economy around £400m per year. Currently, suppliers and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) report 25,000 to 30,000 energy thefts per year, through methods such as altering meters causing increased energy prices for honest energy customers.
Tampering with electricity and the excessive use of high intensity lights also leads to increased risk of fire in these residential proprieties endangering the lives of those living in the surrounding areas of these farms.
Over the last two years police forces have seized over one million cannabis plants, with an estimated value of over £200 million. Since Crimestoppers began in 1988, the charity has helped to seize illegal drugs with a street value of over £292 million. Around half of all information that is passed to Crimestoppers every year is about drugs offences so the public are clearly concerned about having drugs in their communities.
Founder and Chairman of Crimestoppers, Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC said: "Cannabis farms grow more than just drugs. Those who are cultivating cannabis tend to be involved in other areas of crime and are often involved in related gang crime and other violent crimes involving firearms.
"These individuals use violence and intimidation to carry out these crimes and endanger the lives of those around them. We want to help put an end to this and the funding that cultivation provides to serious organised crimes like human trafficking and gun crime."
Crimestoppers Director of Operations, Roger Critchell said: "We are distributing "scratch and sniff" cards because not many people know how to recognise the signs of cannabis cultivation happening in their neighbourhood, many are also not familiar with the established links between this crime and serous organised crime.
"Cannabis farms make everyone a victim. Is organised crime running a cannabis farm in your neighbourhood? Give us information anonymously on 0800 555 111 to help play your part in keeping our streets safe."
The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead for drugs, Andy Bliss, said:
"Closing down cannabis farms and arresting the criminals who run and organise them is a key focus in drugs policing. This is because we recognise that these farms are often run by organised criminals but also because they bring crime and anti-social behaviour into local communities causing real harm and leaving people feeling unsafe.
"We also know that many people don't realise that the empty, run down house or flat on their street with people coming and going late at night may actually be a commercial cannabis farm. It's not just the stereotype of the remote rural set or disused industrial estate unit. The Crimestoppers campaign will help members of the public to recognise the signs and smell of a cannabis farm. The police will use the intelligence generated by the campaign to help build on recent successes in tackling this issue."
Crimestoppers is asking members of the public to pass on any information about cannabis farms anonymously by telephoning 0800 555 111 or via our anonymous online form via www.crimestoppers-uk.org . Both routes are 100% anonymous - names are not taken, calls and IP addresses are not traced or recorded and people do not have to go to court.
Support our campaign and spread the word on social media by using #weedthesigns.