Greater Manchester Police are promising a cannabis famine as they claim a rise in drug-farmers and dealers continue to 'destroy' communities.
Six North West forces are calling on the public to help the fight against criminals harvesting the Class B drug, as cultivation offences in Greater Manchester have risen by 16 per cent between 2010 and 2011.
However, the crackdown is being opposed by numerous groups campaigning for a revising of existing drug laws.
Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK and was reclassified from a Class C to a Class B drug in 2009.
Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney said: “Criminals involved in running these cannabis farms are part of organised gangs prepared to use extreme violence and intimidation to protect and expand their illegal business interests.
“They plough profits made from drug dealing into other serious criminal activities and force users to turn to theft and burglary to fund their addiction.
“We have made more than 3,500 arrests in hundreds of raids in the last three years and will be working hard over the next few months to put cannabis farmers out of business and destroy their crops.”
Under Operation Broadley, police want the public to support them by reporting their suspicions on illegal plantations, as more stringent border controls have resulted in criminals choosing to home-grow marijuana. Police discovered 1,180 cannabis cultivations with 10 plants or more last year, arresting 1,458 as a result.
However, a national campaigner for a reworking of drug policy group has blamed the GMP’s clampdown of warehouse production for the widespread problems of smaller farms across Greater Manchester.
Sarah McCulloch, Local Group Coordinator for Re:Vision Drug Policy Manchester, said: “The reality of the situation is that by constantly clamping down on cannabis farms, GMP are simply spreading them all over Manchester instead of confining them to a few manageable areas.
“Cannabis production is being pushed out of warehouses and abandoned buildings to the suburbs and residential housing where they are a much greater nuisance to regular people.
“So long as Mancunians want cannabis, there will be people to grow it, regardless of how many farms GMP bust.”
Possession can result in an £80 on-the-spot fine to an unlimited amount, with up to five years imprisonment. Dealing can lead to arrest and up to 14 years in prison.
Police want residents to look out for signs of properties being used for cannabis production in their neighbourhoods. These include windows being constantly covered from the inside, people visiting the property for short periods and at unusual times and no one actually living at the property.
Assistant Chief Constable Sweeney added: “The people of Greater Manchester can help to stop these evil people planting their seeds of destruction in our communities by keeping an eye out for the tell-tale signs of cannabis farming and reporting their suspicions either directly to us on 101 or anonymously through Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.”
Detective Superintendent John Lyons, from Titan, said: "Cannabis is not the harmless drug it is often perceived to be and is the most used illegal drug in the UK. An increasing number of people who grow cannabis are directly funding dangerous, organised criminal gangs. These gangs are often responsible for gun crime, violence and intimidation across the North West.
Operation Broadley is being organised through the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (Titan) and involves their officers working alongside officers from the six regional police forces - Merseyside, GMP, Cheshire, Lancashire, North Wales and Cumbria.
Mancunian Matters will continue to cover the issues concerning this matter, with a more in-depth follow up. More to follow...