A Manchester drug activist has slammed the cannabis crackdown which saw Greater Manchester Police seize almost 90,000 plants last year.
GMP recovered 89,011 plants in 2011/12 – amounting to a whopping 250 plants a day – the highest amount in England and Wales and a 31% increase on the previous year’s haul.
But according to Sarah McCulloch, Chair of Manchester’s Re:Vision Drug Policy Network, widescale seizures are useless as they barely affect the cannabis users, and rather than helping the scenario, jailing them is part of the problem.
“What the police are doing with cannabis farms matters very little to [cannabis users],” she said.
“Massive seizures might disrupt the supply briefly, lower quality or raise prices, but cannabis is a plant that anyone can grow.
“To produce LSD, you need a degree in organic chemistry. To produce cannabis, you need a cupboard with some hydroponic lighting.
“You simply cannot stop people growing and selling it.”
Ms McCulloch added that such indifference from cannabis users meant police were getting their priorities wrong – particularly in light of law changes in America.
“At a time when some states are legalising cannabis altogether, for Greater Manchester Police to start cracking down on it even harder seems positively perverse,” she said.
“Even if GMP managed to shut down every cannabis farm in Manchester, people would bring it in from Leeds or somewhere else nearby.”
“Police have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds damaging users’ health, giving entrepreneurial spirits criminal records, and neglecting violent crime.”
The Home Office statistics, released last month, show that Greater Manchester Police seized 14.5% of the 612,373 cannabis plants recovered nationally.
This was despite the region having just 4.7% of the population of England and Wales.
Detective Inspector Steve Earnshaw, of GMP’s Drug Unit, claimed that the results displayed a justified crackdown on drugs.
“I am pleased with the fact that we have the highest number of seizures in the country,” he said.
“It demonstrates the excellent work we are doing to successfully locate and identify cannabis farms and then take the drugs off the streets.”
However, Ms McCulloch claimed that, adversely, cannabis seizures dragged even more people into the industry and caused an even bigger problem.
Opportunists, she said, would enter the growth and dealing of cannabis, seeking to capitalise on the sudden drop in supply.
“It is simple supply-and-demand economics,” said Ms McCulloch.
“Greater Manchester Police fail to realise that reducing supply does not reduce demand.
“Where there are people willing to buy cannabis, there are people willing to grow, smuggle, and deal it.”
The strong relationship between drug dealing and other crime is also an issue of contention, and DI Earnshaw insisted that cannabis seizures weakened this link.
Recent figures showed that only Metropolitan and West Yorkshire police forces have a higher rate of recorded crime than Greater Manchester’s.
The region’s rate of 76 offences per 1,000 people accounted over 200,000 crimes, with robbery and fraud particularly prevalent.
“Drugs are a major driving force behind many other crimes such as burglary, robbery and vehicle crime, and that is why we are determined to root out all those involved in this trade,” said DI Earnshaw.
“By combating the supply of drugs, we are also making our communities safer.”
However, Ms McCulloch disagreed, and said that legalising cannabis was the way forward for authorities wishing to cut related crime levels.
“The only way we can reduce the antisocial and criminal consequences of the drug industry is through control and regulation,” she said.
“Jailing people for £40,000 a year for non-violent drug offences is not part of the solution, it is part of the problem.”
Re:Vision Drug Policy Network is a national network of young people campaigning for effective drug policies, control and regulation and harm reduction methods.
They were established in March 2011 and are based in Manchester.
Cannabis was reclassified from a class C to a class B drug in 2009, whilst dealers caught selling the drug can face up to 14 years in prison.