Pubdate: Sat, 03 Nov 2007
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2007 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: John Robertson and Michael Howie
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


THE country's senior judge warned yesterday of heavier sentences in
Scotland than in England to try to curb the boom in cannabis factories
north of the Border. Lord Hamilton, the Lord Justice- General, said
even those who play a relatively minor role in the cultivation of
large quantities of cannabis plants should expect jail terms of four
or five years.

South of the Border, the same offence might ordinarily attract a
three-year sentence, but Lord Hamilton said: "The illegal cultivation
of cannabis by organised criminals on a substantial commercial scale
appears to be a relatively new phenomenon in Scotland ... we consider
the need to discourage a new development in this jurisdiction
justifies that difference."

About 70 cannabis factories have been identified in Scotland by police
since the summer of 2006. Most have been set up by Vietnamese and
Chinese gangs, converting houses, garages and even warehouses into
factories, mainly in west of Scotland suburbs, such as Cambuslang. The
factories are capable of producing tens of millions of pounds worth of
illicit crop.

The gangs were thought to have moved north in the past couple of years
from London, the Midlands and Merseyside, where they have been
targeted by police. Lord Hamilton made the ruling after hearing an
appeal over the sentence of a Chinese man who was caught during a raid
on one such factory.

The Court of Criminal Appeal in Edinburgh heard that a police
operation was started in December last year and had discovered a huge
rise in cannabis factories. Officers made 51 arrests and seized
thousands of plants with a potential street value of more than UKP10
million. One of those detained was Zhi Pen Lin, 32, a Chinese national
and a failed asylum seeker who had gone on the run in England after
his application to stay in the country had been refused. He met a man
in Manchester who took him to a house in Forfar, Angus.

When police raided the rented bungalow in March, they found 849
cannabis plants.

Zhi Pen Lin said his duties had been to water and feed the plants, cut
the leaves and lay them out to dry. Every few days, the man from
Manchester would bring food, check the plants and put dried leaves
into plastic bags. A sheriff decided five years would have been the
sentence given to Lin for his role in growing the cannabis, but it
could be discounted to three years and nine months as he had pled
guilty to the offence. He would also be recommended for

At the appeal court, it was argued that as he had been only a
"gardener" in the operation, the sentence was excessive and that a
discounted term of two years might be expected in England. Lord
Hamilton, sitting with Lords Nimmo Smith and Carloway, said sentencing
guidance needed to be given for future cases. So far, sentences on the
handful of cannabis factory "foot soldiers" had ranged from 18 months
to four-and-a-half years. The maximum available was 14 years.

"The higher ranges must be reserved for the more serious cases -
involvement at a sophisticated level and repeat offences. First
offenders with minor involvement, such as 'gardeners', may
appropriately be dealt with less severely," said Lord Hamilton.

"Nonetheless, where cultivation is on a commercial and substantial
scale, a sentence of imprisonment will almost inevitably be
appropriate. The courts must seek to deter individuals from lending
their services to such activity."

The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency, which has spearheaded
efforts to clampdown on the factories, last night welcomed Lord
Hamilton's guidelines.

"This reflects the serious concerns we have had about these cannabis
factories and their connection with serious organised crime," said a
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