In the past four weeks I have attended two cannabis factories, been to one house where harvested cannabis was being dried and I’ve witnessed the pile of seized hydroponic equipment outside the property store being added to on a daily basis.
It’s estimated that us police types are raiding three cannabis factories every day across Britain, they’re a regular discovery around the West Midlands and whilst we’re doing our best to disrupt the trade, the factories that our Cannabis Disposal Teams rip apart only represent the tip of the iceberg.
It’s common to find cannabis farms set up in residential houses and factory units – one of the largest growing operations of the past few years was uncovered inside an industrial building just behind Bloxwich Police Station – and criminals are more than happy to tap straight into the mains to power the heat lamps required to make their crop grow.
As it is the case that the cannabis farmers often use residential locations to grow their crops, having members of the public keeping an eye open for suspicious activity and passing information onto ourselves is crucial.
What should you be looking for though? How can you spot a cannabis farm?
Assuming you’ve got your deerstalker on and magnifying glass in hand, here are some of the clues that hint a cannabis factory may be nearby:
- Strange smell – One of the most obvious signs, cannabis is referred to as ‘skunk’ for a reason. Its sweet smell is very hard to disguise and drifts through thin walls and open windows.
- Covered windows – In many of the factories that I’ve visited, the windows have been papered over or the curtains kept closed. It helps keep in the heat and light and is a strong sign that there’s something inside somebody’s trying to hide.
- Pots and soil etc being brought in – Much of the equipment needed to grow cannabis is bulky. Lamps, ventilation tubing, pots and soil being brought in at funny hours suggest your neighbour isn’t growing marrows.
- Odd comings and going – One job I went to started off with a report that a minibus full of people had been seen arriving at an empty house at five in the morning, we arrived and found they were illegal immigrants about to set up a cannabis farm.
- Neighbours that don’t quite fit in – DrugScope suggest that three quarters of cannabis farms are run by Vietnamese gangs although it’s certainly not exclusive to one ethnicity, anyone can be tempted to try and grow cannabis.
- Shy occupants – If neighbours have set up a growing operation, they’ll be keen to attract as little attention as possible. Suspicions should be raised if you think a house is occupied but you never see the people living there.
- Lots of banging and noise – As you can see from the photo, cannabis farms require some extensive ‘renovations’ which won’t be quiet work. You may also be able to hear air circulation fans running constantly.
- Heat coming through walls – Cannabis plants don’t get on particularly well with the British weather so heat lamps are required, you may well be able to feel the surplus heat escaping through adjoining walls. It’s also quite noticeable to the thermal imaging camera on our helicopter.
- Electrical problems or a rise in your bill – Heat lamps are electricity thirsty and rather than pay for the electricity, cannabis farmers usually (and very dangerously) hook directly up to the mains. In one factory they’d dug under the road and linked straight to the street’s main supply, the electricity company had to dig the street up to fix the damage.
- Odd things left in the rubbish – Look out for bags of cuttings, empty cannisters of plant growth formula and the like.
- Strange pattern of occupancy – Cannabis farmers usually rent their properties, if you notice a house that’s been unoccupied for a while being taken over by someone who doesn’t move in any furniture or appear to be running a business, it may be that they’re stripping the property out for a farm.
- Rise in humidity – Just as cannabis plants like heat, they also need a high level of humidity to grow. This may well be noticeable, as might the sound of the humidifiers.
- Vents visible – Look out for silver coloured piping hanging out of windows, hose pipes leading indoors too are a give away.
- Lights left on – If the windows haven’t been completely covered, you may be able to see bright yellow light escaping.
If you’ve noticed any of the above, it’s a good possibility that someone might be operating a cannabis factory nearby.
Please give us a call on 101 and let us know as we’re always happy to come around with the ‘big red key’ and have our burly Cannabis Disposal Team tear apart the hydroponic equipment with their teeth.
Alternatively you can supply the information anonymously via Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111 or visiting their website.
The most recent cannabis find I’d attended came to our attention as a result of an anonymous call from a resident – it’s hard to say just how valuable these sort of calls are to us so if any of the above indicators have stood out to you, please don’t delay in letting us know.
Help us nip the problem in the bud!