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What happens when UK police seize cannabis?

While the majority of countries around the globe are slowly beginning to warm to cannabis farming and consumption, the UK police have remained rampant in their clampdown on illicit grow-houses across the country.

Last Sunday, Merseyside police uncovered a huge haul of more than 3,000 cannabis plants in Liverpool. Dubbed the “largest ever” found by UK police, the seized stash had an estimated street value of around £10 million.

Meanwhile in Leicester, another raid took place on a crop-house containing more than £250,000 worth of cannabis in a bedroom of a semi-detached house.

Earlier this month, the Leaf Desk reported on the raid of a cannabis farm at an underground bunker in Devon, with more than £384,000 worth of the drug being seized and the owner being jailed for five years.

The sheer amount of cannabis seizures on a daily bases in the UK is monumental, but it doesn’t seem to be halting the use of the drug which has, on the contrary, been given the green light across a number of states in the US.

Not only is cannabis use on the rise, but so is the advocacy of people wanting it to be legalised for recreational and medicinal use.

Despite cannabis being illegal in the UK since 1928, the number of punishments being handed out for cannabis possession has taken a steep downwards turn from 2010 to 2017, with the total warnings, notices, cautions, and prosecutions going from around 140,000 in 2010 to just under 60,000 in 2017.

The decline in the number of punishments is often attributed to individual police organisations deciding to prioritise other crimes, as a person with a small amount of cannabis on their person will often be sent away with a warning rather than being prosecuted.

Fewer cannabis punishments could also be a result of police budget cuts and the decrease in police numbers, as the remaining force will prioritise more violent crimes such as burglaries and weapon-related crime.

Alongside this, general support for the legalisation of cannabis has gone up to the point where twice as many British adults currently support legalisation than oppose it, revealing the disparity between the public’s opinion and the current drug laws.

According to a YouGov poll taken earlier this year, 77% of the survey participants would want to have medicinal cannabis fully legalised, whilst 48% of voters want to see recreational cannabis being legalised in the UK.

76% of participants stated they would consider taking a cannabis-based medicine if there was strong evidence of the benefits of the treatment, which coincidentally would put the UK in a strong position to lead such research, as Britain currently produces and exports the highest amount of medical-grade cannabis in the world.

Additionally, England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has recently called for more research to be done into the plant’s medical benefits to enable further guidance on cannabis-based medicines with strong scientific backing.

What do UK police do with seized cannabis?

A police raid usually takes place in the early hours of the morning in an attempt to catch the criminal off-guard. It often takes place at a residential property as these are often the easiest places to conceal cannabis growth, although industrial-sized farms have been found over the past year.

When the raid takes place, the suspects will be arrested for questioning while the police begin to examine the cannabis being grown.

Once evidence is taken, the remainder of the product will most likely be incinerated, with some of the equipment being recycled. This is a prime example of the UK effectively burning a crop that is turning over billions of dollars on a yearly basis in the US.

The potential waste of billions of pounds annually could instead be reinvested into communities and depleted services, such as mental health facilities, drug abuse programs, schools, and further medical research.

There is already an agreement in place to make use of the seized equipment used in the cannabis growing process, wherein the lighting is given to local allotment groups and schools to be reused for growing vegetables and herbs.

In 2018, cannabis was the most commonly seized drug in the UK and was involved in 72% of the total drug seizures in England and Wales in 2017/18. The total amount of cannabis seized has more than doubled in recent years, rising by 142% to 28.6 tonnes since 2017.

As many authorities are reluctant to copy the US in profiting off the growth of the plant, another opportunity to cash in on the seized goods as opposed to wasting it would be reselling the crop to countries where the plant is legal.

The hypocrisy of the United Kingdom

While low-level criminals feel the heat as their cannabis plants get seized by law enforcement, the UK government is actually one of the world’s largest cannabis exporters.

This might be a shocking statement considering the size and stature of the United Kingdom, but in fact some individual farms in the UK produce and export around 90 tonnes of cannabis per year, turning a huge profit.

One particular farm making huge amounts of cannabis is owned by British Sugar and proceeds well within the law by utilising loopholes to generate millions of pounds in revenue with the full support of the British government.

GW Pharmaceuticals, the company responsible for creating the most successful cannabis-based medicines Sativex and Epidiolex, is also based in the United Kingdom and is one of the world’s largest producers of medical cannabis, currently valued at more than £3 million.

Meanwhile, petty cannabis criminals are slapped with sentences for possession or use of the drug of up to five years in prison.

It seems nonsensical that local law enforcement agencies are burning away seized crops and potential profits while the government grows and exports it anyway.

Even if it’s due to a regulatory concern, as cannabis grown in an unregulated environment could be tainted with contaminants, sufficient testing and research could be funded in order to generate a significant profit from potentially exporting the seized crops as well.


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