Pubdate: Sun, 29 May 2005
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2005 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


An explosion in the amount of cannabis grown in people's homes has
alarmed senior police officers, with some forces reporting a sixfold
increase in seizures. Home-grown cannabis now accounts for more than
half of all consumption in the UK.

While cultivating cannabis is illegal, it is not against the law to
buy seeds and growing equipment and business is booming. 'There's no
doubt that the market for home-grown has completely exploded,' says
Mark Evans, director of internet-based retailer

'We're selling at least 200 packets of seeds each week. Some of it is
down to the reclassification - there's a lot of confusion out there,
and some people think it's now legal. The other factor is the
increased availability of hydroponic equipment which enables you to
grow plants indoors.'

Small-scale kits cost about UKP 350, while a packet of 10 'mid-range'
seeds is around UKP 65. A typical user would expect to recoup this
with the first crop The number of outlets selling seeds and
paraphernalia has gone from 50, five years ago, to more than 2,000.

In the past month officers from the Metropolitan Police seized more
than 10,000 cannabis plants. Figures to be released next month are
expected to show that the total amount of herbal cannabis seized in
the past year - which includes home-grown plants - has nearly doubled
to 950,000 kilos.

Forces around the country have noticed a similar trend. Police in
Northern Ireland seized more than 1,200 cannabis plants in the past
year compared with 202 the year before. In Scotland the Tayside
force's seizure rate has gone up sixfold. The independent drug advice
group Drugscope says the proportion of home-grown cannabis being
consumed now accounts for half the total market.

The dramatic increase comes as the government contemplates a U-turn on
the reclassification of cannabis, which was scaled back from class B
to class C last year. The Advisory Committee on the Misuse of Drugs is
debating whether cannabis containing high levels of the active
ingredient THC should attract higher penalties. Domestic plants often
have a significantly higher content.

Regular users are sceptical of the review. 'The main reason people
grow their own cannabis is that they want to know what they are
smoking and because they want to avoid associating with criminals,'
says Howard Green, who grows the drug for his own use, passing on the
surplus to those who use it to alleviate the symptoms of MS and other

'It's not always about having the strongest product available.
Sometimes you feel like a pint of beer and sometimes you want a glass
of brandy. A change in the law will make no difference. If people want
to take drugs, they don't care what class they are.'

While much of the increase in seizures is due to the arrest of people
growing a small number of plants for personal use, there has also been
an explosion in the number of large criminal enterprises.

'We're not talking about a few hippies growing a bit of pot,' says
Detective Inspector Dave McKelvey, who led raids on several London
cannabis 'farms' this month. 'These are organised criminals prepared
to invest money in cultivation on a commercial scale for big profits.'

The raids uncovered 10 houses converted into cannabis factories, each
containing up to 2,000 plants. Sophisticated lighting and watering
systems meant a new crop could be produced every eight weeks. Gangs
will invest up to UKP 50,000 per property to establish a growing
operation. Increased competition has also raised the spectre of
gangland violence.

In January the body of a Vietnamese national, Khang Tho Nguyen, was
discovered in a house in Alperton, north London. The 41-year-old had
been stabbed in the neck. The entire upstairs of the rented property
where his body was found had been adapted to grow large numbers of
cannabis plants. His killers remain at large.

Police have vowed to continue the crackdown on growers, but in future
those who are caught may face more lenient sentences. Last week the
Court of Appeal halved the sentence of 33-year-old cannabis user
Matthew Herridge from 12 months to six months. Herridge, who was
caught with 52 plants, successfully argued that the entire crop was
for his own personal use and that he was not a dealer.
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