Pubdate: Mon, 18 Feb 2008
Source: Argus, The (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Newsquest Media Group
Author: Miles Godfrey
Bookmark: (Cannabis - United Kingdom)


When police tried to smash their way into Britain's most fortified
cannabis cafe for a fifth time on Thursday, nobody really expected it
to be closed down. Why would they?

During previous raids, only five arrests had ever been made, resulting
in no prosecutions and only trace amounts of cannabis being recovered.

Is it now time for the law to turn a blind eye, asks reporter MILES
GODFREY, who has visited the cafe.

There is a tiny room on the first floor of the Lancing cannabis cafe
which is crucial to its existence.

The fortifications around the building, in a slip road off Freshbrook
Road, include protective tyres, a high-tech CCTV system and heavy
steel doors making it look like a nuclear bunker.

But it is the 10ft by 10ft room upstairs which is its nerve

The only items in this room, which is protected by a steel door, is a
small incinerator, a bottle of oxygen and a gas mask.

Every time the police raid the cafe - and on each occasion it has
taken at least ten minutes to get past the fortifications - a
substantial plume of smoke has been seen coming from the chimney which
is connected to the incinerator.

Once inside, officers have only ever found tiny quantities of

Only five arrests have ever been made during the raids - and no

The raids have cost thousands of pounds and used up many, many man

But the situation has resulted in a stand-off between the police and
the cafe's owners worthy of a scene from a spaghetti western.

And while there are many who believe the raids should stop, East
Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton is not one of them.

He is calling for new police powers to ensure officers can close
cannabis cafes.

Mr Loughton said: "It is a blot on the community.

"I have received numerous complaints from those who say there are
unsavoury characters hanging about there.

"The people who run this place are circumventing the law and I plan to
write to the (Home Office) minister to urge him to look into this.

"People who run cannabis cafes have got very clever at what they do
and know how to avoid police detection.

"I don't know what powers would be needed but there must be something
done to enable the police to go about their job and shut this place,
and others like it, down."

The first contact between the police and owners of the cafe came
shortly after it opened in January 2007. Officers visited the premises
to seek reassurances it was not being used to smoke cannabis and
searched a number of people leaving it.

However, by July, police carried out their first raid on the property,
battering through a brick wall. A small amount of cannabis was
recovered and three arrests made but no charges were ever brought.

In October, police redoubled their efforts, using a two-tonne tractor
to smash out a window.

Two people were arrested on suspicion of money laundering but, again,
no charges were brought. Two teenagers received cautions for
possession of cannabis.

A third "raid" was carried out in November, when officers simply
knocked on the door and asked to be let in. No drugs were recovered.

The fourth and fifth raids both came within a week of each other this

On the first, no cannabis was found and no arrests were

Thursday's raids resulted in no arrests and small amounts of cannabis

A handful of arrests for possession of cannabis have been made by
officers stopping and searching people leaving.

All have received cautions.

Unsurprisingly, the owners of the cafe and pro-cannabis campaigners
take a different view to that of Mr Loughton and the police.

They have branded the raids "over the top" and "ludicrous".

They claim no hard drugs are ever taken on the premises, that alcohol
is drunk and that nobody under 18 is allowed in.

In short they believe the cafe should be left alone.

A spokesman said: "In the grand scheme of things there are far better
things the police could be doing with their time and resources.

"There are real criminals out there.

There are drunks causing mayhem as they come out of the

"Nobody here causes any trouble.

People come here to relax and have a smoke."

Indeed the atmosphere in the cafe is relaxed. Chess boards are on low
coffee tables.

Its walls are lined with books and magazines and customers lounge on
comfy sofas.

The spokesman added: "The people who come are not criminals. They are
largely middle class, largely very intelligent people who want to mix
with other like-minded people."

Cannabis smoker and Worthing resident Chris Baldwin, who has stood for
election in Sussex as a pro-cannabis candidate, said: "I think they
should leave them alone. It's been proved that the raids aren't working.

"It is a total waste of police time and resources tackling something
which is causing nobody any harm."

However Chief Inspector Lawrence Hobbs, Adur District Commander, is
resolute in his belief that the raids will continue and the cafe will
be tackled.

His firm belief comes despite telling The Argus that he is largely not
concerned with people smoking small amounts of cannabis "in their own
front rooms".

However, he believes that large-scale sale of drugs not only fuels
other crime but also causes wider problems of antisocial behaviour.

Chief Insp Hobbs said: "Adur police have had a number of complaints
from the public in relation to antisocial behaviour and we know there
is a clear and direct link with this type of behaviour and cannabis.

"We will continue to take positive action to put a stop to this
long-running problem for businesses and residents."

Residents of Freshbrook Road who spoke to The Argus back the police

Joan Taylor, 34, said: "I'm not against cannabis per se but I do
object to having the cafe at the back of my property.

"The sooner the police shut it down the better from my family's point
of view."
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