Residential properties and warehouses in Leeds are regularly taken over by criminal gangs for highly organised cannabis production, according to a detective tasked with tackling the city’s drug trade.
Detective Inspector Phil Jackson, who works in the serious organised crime unit, said the cannabis farms are designed to provide a constant supply for ‘ring and bring’ dealers operating in Leeds.
“We have, as other cities do, residential properties where organised crime groups are renting the house, or have even bought it on some occasions, and they make them into a drug factory," he said.
“Different rooms will be used for different stage plants. They start with a nursery like you would have in a greenhouse, you move up and you get to the loft where you get all the bigger plants ready for drying out.”
He said officers do, on occasion, find homes where people are growing for their own use.
“You open up a cupboard and there’s a hydroponics set up,” he said. “You can grow it anywhere. It could be your next door neighbour.”
But more frequently raids on houses lead police to uncover organised grows, some of which have ‘gardeners’ who constantly monitor the conditions.
Sites like these can often be linked to human trafficking and modern slavery.
“We do go to addresses and arrest people there,” Det Insp Jackson said.
“These buildings also bring their own problems with the criminal fraternity and gangs finding out where others are growing cannabis.
“They’re not protected so often people want to go in and steal the plants.”
He said the link between weapons and drugs was well documented, and this extends to the cannabis market too.
“We don’t see people getting held up at gunpoint for cannabis like you do with other drugs, but you do get people going into houses with baseball bats prepared to be violent to get these drugs,” he said.
“They are willing to be violent without a shadow of a doubt because there’s a lot of money involved.”
Part of the challenge for police in gathering intelligence, he says, is that a lot of people do not see the illegality.
“How many times do you walk down the street and smell cannabis? People see it as being fine,” he said.
“But it’s not just Mr and Mrs Smith growing their own. Somebody’s making a lot of money out of it. It’s organising on a huge scale.”
Although the subject of legalising cannabis remains the topic of debate, police say they will continue to enforce laws around production, supply and possession unless the law changes.
“It’s important to emphasise that cannabis is illegal and we treat the supply of cannabis just as we treat the supply of heroin and cocaine,” Det Insp Jackson said.
“We do a lot of work within the community and working with the neighbourhood policing teams to act on intelligence and close these cannabis houses down. We also do a lot of work in schools.”