“There is a continued link between the commercial cultivation of cannabis, modern slavery and people living without legal permission to remain in the UK, according to a new report by the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
The report, based on three years of data from police forces across the country, also shows that commercial cultivation is being used as a means to fund other criminal activity, including distribution of class A drugs and money laundering.
The cultivation of cannabis is deemed a commercial enterprise when it involves 25 or more cannabis plants, at any stage of growth, or when there is evidence of a cannabis farm, whereby the premises have been adapted to such an extent that normal usage would be inhibited.
On average, 250,000 cannabis plants, with an estimated street value of more than £62m, are seized by officers annually, though offences linked to the commercial cultivation of cannabis were down by 5% in the last year.
During the three-year period, some 6,010 offenders were identified as being involved in the commercial cultivation of cannabis. The majority of these were white northern European males, mostly British, aged between 25 and 34. There is also evidence of involvement by south Asian organised crime groups, as well as by Vietnamese nationals who are forced to work in cultivation by white British gangs.
The report states: “Despite research showing a move towards British nationals cultivating cannabis on a commercial scale, we continue to see links between residents without legal permission to remain in the UK and the cultivation of cannabis.
“Convictions suggest that individuals continue to be smuggled into the UK and employed as gardeners for large cannabis grows.”
It adds that victims continue to be exploited for the purpose of criminal activity. ECPAT UK, a leading children’s rights organisation campaigning to protect children from child trafficking and transnational child sexual abuse, continues to raise concerns about the criminalisation of children apprehended in raids on cannabis factories.
“Individuals, including children, have indeed been prosecuted as opposed to being safeguarded as vulnerable victims,” the report says. “There are clear examples of children being re-trafficked after coming into contact with law enforcement, with many going missing from local authority care.”
It is also revealed that more than 90% of cannabis farms are set up in residential buildings. Cannabis factories or farms are said to pose a serious risk of fire hazards to nearby properties from bypassing electricity meters.
The NPCC lead on cannabis, temporary assistant chief constable Bill Jephson, said: “Tackling the criminals at the source of wholesale cannabis cultivation remains a key priority for us. The report highlights the links with violence, class A drugs and other serious criminality including human trafficking and modern slavery.
“I hope that this profile will help police understand the latest trends in cannabis cultivation and further inform the public about the threat, harm and risk posed by those responsible for the commercial cultivation of cannabis.”
Read more at: The Guardian