crackdown on cannabis "factories" has been
launched by police alarmed by figures
showing that the high-strength "skunk"
variety of the drug now accounts for 60 per
cent of the UK market.
involving 17 forces in England and Wales
will run over the next two weeks with the
aim of closing hundreds of cannabis
cultivation units, ranging from vast
warehouses on farms to terraced suburban
houses crammed with plants, and disrupting
the crime gangs behind them.
contains far higher quantities of the
chemical THC than herbal or resin-based
The growth of
skunk, which has overtaken more
"traditional" herbal or resin cannabis, has
accelerated over the last six years.
significantly more profitable, selling at up
to £120 an ounce, compared to up to £70 for
herbal and up to £50 for resin.
gangsters are heavily involved in
"hydroponic" cultivation of skunk - growing
plants in secluded warehouses using liquid
nutrients. The largest warehouse raided by
police contained 20,000 plants worth £8
In recent years
there has also been an explosion,
particularly in London, of small-scale
factories in residential homes, in which
many hundreds of plants are grown under
intense light powered by electricity
illegally and dangerously diverted from the
mains supply. There have been a number of
fires. This area is dominated by Vietnamese
gangsters using illegal "trafficked"
identified at least 700 cannabis factories
in London alone last year and there is clear
evidence that the skunk trade is expanding
across the UK, leading to the operation
coordinated by the Association of Chief
Police Officers (ACPO).
far higher quantities of the chemical THC
than herbal or resin-based cannabis. In the
mid-1990s only around 10 per cent of
cannabis in the UK was believed to be skunk.
percentage in the last 10 years has
spiralled to 60 per cent of the market, a
calculation based on police seizures.
consumption of skunk will fuel the debate
over whether the decision to downgrade
cannabis from a Class B to a Class C
narcotic in 2004 was appropriate for a new
form of the drug which can be between four
and seven time stronger than traditional
"dope" - and whether the decision had
contributed to the growth of skunk.
been raised about the health effects of
skunk - particularly in those with some
types of mental illness - and its potential
to become more of a "gateway" than
herbal/resin cannabis to harder drugs.
thought to consider cannabis dealing to be a
"lower risk" than dealing in hard drugs but
police chiefs argue that cultivating and
trafficking cannabis can still attract
sentences of up to 14 years.