A Manchester activist is condemning the police crackdown on cannabis that saw the destruction of more than 17,000 cannabis plants in the North West.
Cannabis worth £9million and 4kg of cannabis leaf have been seized, and hundreds of cannabis farms were destroyed in a month-long police operation across the North West.
Operation Broadley, which saw police forces across the region join hands with North West’s organised crime unit Titan, resulted in high number of arrests and the seizure of large quantities of other drugs including cocaine and LSD.
Manchester activist and campaigner Sarah McCulloch, who chairs Re:Vision Drug Policy Network Manchester, said: “Three million people use cannabis on a regular basis, of whom many are medicinal users who are willing to risk conviction and imprisonment to use the medicine they need in order to live functional pain-free lives.
“It is therefore a phenomenal waste of money and police resources that could be put into genuine criminal activity that harms people.”
She believes that police forces can be successful in reducing production within the region only temporarily by prompting producers to move their operations somewhere else.
“Cannabis is a plant which can be grown anywhere by anyone. In the exceptionally unlikely event that all UK cannabis suppliers were arrested, there are always entrepreneurs willing to get involved. That's why we have a drug war,” she said.
Det Supt John Lyons, from Titan, said: “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."
Utility companies, garden centres, DIY stores and the Royal Mail stepped in, helping the police in spotting the signs of cannabis farming.
The fire service and local authorities also aided police forces in Greater Manchester, Merseyside, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Wales and Cumbria in the operation.
"People who grow cannabis often have a total disregard for the safety of others, frequently endangering the lives of those in neighbouring properties by tampering with electricity supplies and leaving live electrical cables exposed, increasing the risk of fire," Mr Lyons said.
"We hope this sends out a strong message to anyone thinking of becoming involved in cannabis cultivation – whether from letting a room in your property be used for cannabis growth or to those higher up the chain – that we will not tolerate this activity."
However, Miss McCulloch believes that the market disruption that such operations cause can have undesirable results: “What we may well see is a rise in poor quality cannabis and a higher rate of contaminants as dealers make their current supplies go further.
“This would be far more harmful than if the police simply left the market to its own devices and concentrated on the antisocial behaviours associated with some cannabis farms and users.
“In the unlikely event that the market for cannabis was seriously disrupted, I would imagine that we would see a spike in the demand for synthetic (and legal) alternatives among recreational users. However, medicinal users will simply continue to seek the real thing.”
Cannabis was reclassified from a class C to a class B drug in 2009. Dealers caught selling the drug can face up to 14 years in prison.