Scotland

Drugs agency in plea to 'weed out' cannabis farms

generic cannabis factory
Image caption Scottish police forces have seized almost £40m worth of cannabis plants since 2006

A campaign is being launched to encourage the public to help weed out cannabis factories.

The Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA) wants people to provide anonymous information on houses and flats they suspect are being used to cultivate cannabis.

The campaign comes as new figures showed police forces have seized almost £40m worth of the plants since 2006.

The SCDEA is spending £25,000 on the campaign.

Cultivations have been detected by all eight police forces across Scotland in both rural and urban settings and in a variety of properties, including flats, houses, farm buildings and industrial premises.

The public are being asked to use their "natural senses" to look out for signs which may indicate the presence of a cannabis factory.

'Tell-tale signs'

These include blacked-out windows, occasionally with condensation on them, or curtains or blinds that are permanently closed.

Another sign is when premises appear unoccupied most of the time but there are people, often of south-east Asian appearance, seen visiting late at night.

Since 2006, police in Scotland have detected 278 commercial cannabis cultivations and seized 130,716 plants valued at £39.2m.

Of the 304 people arrested, 74% were Chinese and 22% were Vietnamese.

Launching the campaign, Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "Even the smallest piece of information about an individual or group's activity can be the key that unlocks the door to disrupting an entire criminal empire.

"The fact that so many of the individuals involved in cannabis cultivation are of south-east Asian origin should not be seen as us targeting a community.

"Nine out of 10 of those arrested for these particular crimes are of south-east Asian descent and it would be negligent if we refused to acknowledge that reality."

He added: "But I hope that we will also get the support of those communities with family ties to that region of the world."

'Safety risks'

The agency has warned that cannabis factories pose serious safety risks, with properties often destroyed internally to maximise space for plants.

It has also argued they represent a serious fire and electrocution risk because electricity supplies are interfered with and powerful lighting is left on for long periods of time.

SCDEA director general Gordon Meldrum said: "These illegal and highly dangerous cultivations are quite literally on people's doorsteps. These are not the kind of neighbours anyone wants or needs."

Police said anyone who wanted to report suspicious activity should call Crimestoppers or give information anonymously online at www.crimestoppers-uk.org.

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