Pubdate: Mon, 22 Oct 2007
Source: Argus, The (UK)
Copyright: 2007 Newsquest Media Group
Author: Miles Godfrey
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


The downgrading of cannabis to a class C drug has led to a series of
cannabis cafes opening across Sussex. Police have faced an uphill
battle trying to close these illegal premises.

Reporter Miles Godfrey visited an alleged cannabis cafe in Lancing
raided by officers only last week and found a steely determination to
defy the authorities.

A cafe which police believe is being used to sell cannabis has
reopened after new defences were installed.

Officers smashed their way into the building in Freshbrook Road,
Lancing, on October 11 using a two-tonne tractor.

They demolished a wall as they ripped a window from its frame and
allegedly caused about UKP20,000 damage to the building and its interior.

However in a show of defiance, the cafe's operators have rebuilt the
wall, fortified the building and reopened for business in under five

The Argus gained exclusive access to the cafe and inspected the new
defences. They include:

*Military razor wire.

*Reinforced steel girders used as height-restriction barriers to
prevent tall vehicles gaining access.

*Steel posts and concrete filled tyres surrounding the

A spokesman for the owner, who did not want to be identified, said:
"We are back up and running. We were within days of the police raid."

The people who run the cafe, which has also been fully repaired and
redecorated inside, claimed the police's "heavyhanded" tactics in
smashing through the wall could have led to serious injuries.

One said: "We don't believe they did a proper health and safety check
before the raid.

They have claimed that the building had a steel structure but it
doesn't. It could have easily collapsed completely with everyone inside it.

"As it was, people did get minor injuries, bumps and bruises and one
woman suffered an asthma attack. We are worried about what tactics the
police are going to use next."

Those inside the building said they were horrified when officers
pulled down the wall.

One said: "It was like something out of a Bruce Willis

Somebody could have easily been very badly hurt or even

Police said they found a "quantity" of cannabis during the raid. Those
at the cafe claim less than four grammes was discovered, an amount
they said did not warrant the raid.

The spokesman said: "The police caused about UKP20,000 damage inside and
out during the operation. They employed numerous officers, hired a
tractor and for what? They only found four grammes of cannabis so what
was the point?"

Officers also found UKP2,000 in cash on the premises during the raid.
The spokesman said the money was from the till and fruit machine and
the rest belonged to four different people.

A strict over-18s policy remains in force and staff said they operated
a strict ban on alcohol.

The raid was the latest in a series of battles police have had with
similar businesses.

Officers have carried out a series of raids across Worthing and
Lancing in the last few years as outlets allegedly selling cannabis
have sprung up.

Many raids have been successful but others, like the one on October 11
in Lancing, turned up only small quantities of cannabis.

In August, 2005, more than 40 police officers were involved in a
dramatic siege at premises in Victoria Road, Worthing. The officers,
including a dozen riot police, forced their way through two 6in-thick
reinforced doors using steel-cutting welders and a battering ram.

About 30 people were marched outside after police smashed their way
into the building, which subsequently closed.

There were raids at the now closed Quantum Leaf and Bongchuffa cannabis
cafes in Rowlands Road, Worthing, in 2003. Pro-cannabis campaigner
Chris Baldwin ran the Quantum Leaf cafe as a "political statement" and
in January, 2004, received a six-month jail sentence for supplying

He served just over six weeks behind bars.

The alleged cannabis cafe in Freshbrook Road has also been raided

In July this year, officers smashed their way into the building using
a battering ram.

However they recovered only small qualities of the

Thick black smoke was spotted rising from the premises during that
raid and the most recent one.

Officers believe it may have been cannabis being burnt inside but they
have been unable to secure enough evidence to bring charges.

Chief Inspector Lawrence Hobbs, Adur district police commander, said
police did not want to rush in. He said: "It is early days. We want to
gather some evidence, seek some legal advice and listen to how the
community want us to deal with it. I do not sense there's any physical
threat to residents."

However, since February when police first suspected the building was
being for drug smoking, his stance has toughened significantly.

He was unapologetic about the damage and said: "There has to be
recognition that these types of illegal enterprises will not be tolerated."

The latest raid was certainly the most dramatic but it may not be the
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