Pubdate: Tue, 29 Jan 2008
Source: Times, The (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd
Author: Roger Boyes, Berlin
Bookmark: (Marijuana)


German Police Raid Border Plantations to Combat a Spillover of the 
Soft-Drug Culture As the Netherlands Gets Tougher

Cannabis farmers in Germany were the target of a massive crackdown
yesterday as police raided more than 200 plantations to tackle the new
soft-drug culture that has spilt over from the Netherlands.

Officers seized mature plants, packets of dried drugs and
growing-equipment in the raids, which involved police forces from 16
regional states and 1,500 investigators.

"We thought he was just a passionate gardener," an incredulous
neighbour said after police stormed an apartment in Aachen near the
Belgian border.

While cannabis farmers in the Netherlands remain on the police radar,
in Germany they have blended into the neighbourhood.

The German police have, however, noticed new patterns in the so-called
soft-drug trade. Last month three German soldiers were arrested for
allegedly bringing in kilos of amphetamines by car from the
Netherlands for resale among army comrades.

The drugs were in part paid for by cannabis grown on behalf of the

Even more bizarrely, two prisoners on day-release in Oberhausen --
close to the Netherlands -- were caught harvesting more than 1,200
cannabis plants in a disused warehouse.

The crop was being prepared, like so many others, for the Dutch

"In the old days, hash farmers were almost always on the Dutch side of
the border, but since the Netherlands got tougher we have been saddled
with the problem," Ulrich Schulze, of the Essen Customs and excise
authority, said. In 2006 the Dutch Parliament stopped so-called coffee
houses -- outlets that tolerated the sale of cannabis -- from selling
alcohol. The current plan is to forbid coffee shops from setting up
within a 250m radius of a school.

A ban on the sale of hallucinogenic mushrooms is also supposed to go
into effect this year.

As a result, since 2006, Dutch traders have become more and more
interested in setting up plantations outside the remit of Dutch law.

German states treat marijuana abuse with varying degrees of tolerance;
it is illegal everywhere in the country, but police often react to the
smell of the drug only if a driver is suspected of consuming it.

For the most part, German police are too stretched to control
suspected plantations, though Mr Schulze suggested that they could
start using helicopters to identify outdoor drug farms. Most of the
German plantations are small and indoors.

The trigger for the latest raids was the increasing popularity of a
"grow shop" that has been supplying cannabis-growing materials over
the internet. Some of yesterday's police actions -- apartments were
being searched as far afield as Rostock on the Baltic Sea -- were drawn
from the shop's customer lists.

There was no word yesterday on how many formal arrests were made, but
the crackdown comes at a time when some countries -- including Britain
- -- are considering upgrading cannabis to a Class B drug.

Oral hearings are to be held on February 5 by the Advisory Council on
the Misuse of Drugs.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake