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19 March 2013, 10:41 | Updated: 19 March 2013, 11:05
Cannabis-scented scratch and sniff cards are going to be handed out in places like Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire, to help us recognise the smell and notice cannabis factories nearby.
It's part of a national campaign by the charity Crimestoppers to try and tackle the production of cannabis in the UK.
There was a 15% increase in the number of cannabis factories discovered during 2011/12. Just over a hundred cannabis farms were discovered in Hertfordshire between 2010 and 2012.
Crimestoppers say the scratch and sniff cards will help educate and inform the public about the signs to spot and detect cannabis farms by recognising the specific smell of growing cannabis.
The UK National Problem Profile Report on Commercial Cannabis Cultivation, produced in 2012, found cannabis growers are using more residential houses to grow the drug, bringing organised crime into local communities.
It also says there has been an increase in property crime, violence and the use of firearms linked to cannabis farms, alongside the knock on effects of organised criminals using income generated from cannabis trafficking to fund a range of other criminal activities. As a class B drug, supplying cannabis in the UK can lead to a 14 year prison sentence.
Crimestoppers say the public often also suffer financially through increased energy costs as a result of cannabis farms. The amount of energy theft is unclear but OFGEM reports that some estimate it costs the UK economy around £400m per year. Currently, suppliers and Distribution Network Operators (DNOs) report 25,000 to 30,000 energy thefts per year, through methods such as altering meters causing increased energy prices for honest energy customers.
Tampering with electricity and the excessive use of high intensity lights also leads to increased risk of fire in these residential properties endangering the lives of those living in the surrounding areas of these farms.
Over the last two years police forces have seized over one million cannabis plants, with an estimated value of over £200m.
Founder and Chairman of Crimestoppers, Lord Ashcroft KCMG PC said: “Cannabis farms grow more than just drugs. Those who are cultivating cannabis tend to be involved in other areas of crime and are often involved in related gang crime and other violent crimes involving firearms.
“These individuals use violence and intimidation to carry out these crimes and endanger the lives of those around them. We want to help put an end to this and the funding that cultivation provides to serious organised crimes like human trafficking and gun crime.”
Crimestoppers Director of Operations, Roger Critchell said: “We are distributing “scratch and sniff” cards because not many people know how to recognise the signs of cannabis cultivation happening in their neighbourhood, many are also not familiar with the established links between this crime and serious organised crime.
“Cannabis farms make everyone a victim. Is organised crime running a cannabis farm in your neighbourhood? Give us information anonymously on 0800 555 111 to help play your part in keeping our streets safe.”
The Association of Chief Police Officers, (ACPO), lead for drugs, Andy Bliss, said: “Closing down cannabis farms and arresting the criminals who run and organise them is a key focus in drugs policing. This is because we recognise that these farms are often run by organised criminals but also because they bring crime and anti-social behaviour into local communities causing real harm and leaving people feeling unsafe.
“We also know that many people don’t realise that the empty, run down house or flat on their street with people coming and going late at night may actually be a commercial cannabis farm. It’s not just the stereotype of the remote rural set or disused industrial estate unit. The Crimestoppers campaign will help members of the public to recognise the signs and smell of a cannabis farm. The police will use the intelligence generated by the campaign to help build on recent successes in tackling this issue.”
Hertfordshire Constabulary’s Detective Chief Superintendent Mark Drew added: “Although Hertfordshire does not face a problem on the scale of some other areas of the UK, and we have had success in identifying and tackling premises used for cultivation, we are not complacent. This campaign brings a real opportunity to gain further intelligence from our communities, to identify those criminals engaged in this organised crime and to dismantle their criminal enterprises and the harm that they generate.”
Crimestoppers is asking members of the public to pass on any information about cannabis farms anonymously by telephoning 0800 555 111 or via our anonymous online form via www.crimestoppers-uk.org . Both routes are 100% anonymous – names are not taken, calls and IP addresses are not traced or recorded and people do not have to go to court.