Hundreds are facing criminal charges after a swoop that also netted cocaine, cash and illegal weapons.
More than 450 people have been charged after an unprecedented police operation against cannabis plantations in the UK, the British police have announced.
Some 182,000 cannabis plants with an estimated value of between £115 million and £130 million (€134 million to €150 million) were seized in what the police described as “the largest national operation of its kind by UK law enforcement”.
Carried out in England and Wales, the operation led to 967 arrests for growing cannabis, money laundering and weapons offences.
Of those arrested, 450 were later charged, according to a statement from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), which led the operation.
Also seized were 20 firearms, more than £600,000 (around €700,000) in cash and 26 kilograms of cocaine, with a street value of £1 million (€1.17 million).
Cannabis is classed as an illegal drug in the UK. Possession carries a penalty of a fine and up to five years imprisonment, while the sentence for producing or dealing it can be as long as 14 years.
A life of crime
“We know that organised cannabis networks are also directly linked to a range of serious crime such as the importation of class A drugs and modern slavery,” said Steve Jupp, the NPCC’s Head of Organised Crime.
“Not only has this operation significantly disrupted criminal activity, but the intelligence gathered will assist future police operations across the country,” he added.
In London, the operation dismantled 65 “cannabis factories”, seized 7,250 plants, 60 kilos of cannabis resin, crack cocaine and five firearms, Scotland Yard said in a separate statement.
Forty-eight people were arrested in the British capital, 27 of whom have been charged, according to Scotland Yard.
Cannabis plantations also pose a threat to their neighbours, says the NPCC.
“Buildings can become dangerous because of the risk of fire” or illegal connections to the electricity network, it points out.
Warning signs that buildings may be being used as cannabis ‘factories’ include frequent visits at all hours of the day and night, blacked-out windows showing condensation even when it’s not cold, intense light even at night, fan noise, frequent deliveries, and abnormal quantities of pots, fertilisers and compost.