OVERRUN BY WEED
It could be going on right under your nose and there’s a good chance you wouldn’t suspect a thing. Domestic cannabis farms have become a very real problem and police in Oldham have uncovered a number of organised crime rings operating across the borough this year.
Setting up a cannabis farm can be fairly cheap and offers a sizeable return — but it is an extremely dangerous practice. Reporter DAWN ECKERSLEY spoke to DC Dave Millwood from Oldham Police’s Operational Support Unit to see what is being done to tackle the borough’s growing cannabis problem.
OVER the past year, officers working within the OSU have arrested more than 100 people for drugs-related offences and seized around 50 kilos of controlled substances with a street value of ?1.4 million.
The unit has also worked in partnership with Customs to successfully seize packages of cocaine and heroin worth ?560,000 which were destined for Oldham.
The town also saw its first and second crackhouse closures this year under the powers and procedures provided by the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003.
But it’s not just the organised gangs that are being targeted by police and the penalties for being caught in possession of cannabis can vary enormously.
DC Millwood said: “Whether you are growing one plant or 100 plants we will be banging your door down. It is the bigger farms that cause us the bigger problems but that doesn’t mean we ignore the people who grow cannabis for their own personal use.
“We work on information supplied to us by the public and we work very closely with other organisations and departments within the police force.
“The penalties you can receive for being caught with cannabis on you can vary. At the lower end, police will confiscate your cannabis and give you a caution but it is more than likely you will be arrested and, if charged, you could end up in court looking at anything from a conditional discharge, or a fine, to 10 years in prison if the judge thinks you have enough cannabis on you to supply others.
“Our work reflects the work of other departments as different types of crime are often linked. For example, a lot of burglaries are committed for drugs money so if you take away the dealers there is no need for the burglaries.”
Houses containing cannabis farms — which is classed as a collection of 100 or more plants — obviously don’t put up signs advertising the goods for sale but there are ways of spotting them.
DC Millwood said: “Look out for people arriving and leaving the property at random times of the day and night and be aware of any strange smells in the area.
“You may notice large deliveries of electrical wiring, light fittings, chemicals or compost and there could be blacked-out windows —or bright lights at the windows at odd times.
“The electricity supply is more often than not tampered with to cater for all the lighting and ventilation equipment which can lead to power cuts and sometimes explosions.”
Equipment needed to start a cannabis farm can be bought from supermarkets and garden centres at a relatively low cost of around ?1,000 and the return can be massive.
A recent discovery of a farm in Haworth Street, Coldhurst, of 136 plants, was thought to have a street value of ?50,000.
DC Millwood said: “It is legal to buy hemp seeds and all the information about growing cannabis is available on the internet.
“You need to fool the plants into thinking they are in an exotic environment with controlled lighting and temperatures. The plants need 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness each day and most people buy one plant and take cuttings from it to grow more.
“They can grow up to around 5ft tall so it varies on how many plants are classed as personal or supply use. There’s a common misconception that the police aren’t bothered about cannabis any more — but this is simply not true.
“We often work with former drug addicts and many of them say that their cannabis use led on to harder drugs.
“It’s not always the case but as the effects of cannabis become less strong and the buzz less intense, users often look to harder drugs, such as amphetamines or cocaine, in search of the hit that cannabis once gave them.”
Oldham Evening Chronicle (UK)
Copyright: Oldham Evening Chronicle 2008