Hydroponics shops have been targeted by detectives in the latest fight against drug crime in the West Midlands.
Eleven people were arrested after eight shops across Birmingham and the Black Country were raided over two days in the last fortnight (Thursday 7 and 14 February).
Nine men aged between 27 and 53 and a 43-year-old woman were arrested following raids on their home addresses before their business premises were searched at shops in Wednesbury, Walsall, Sparkhill, Erdington, Blackheath, Northfield and Kings Heath.
During the searches of the home addresses, £45,000 cash was seized as well as between two to three kilos of cannabis worth in the region of £20,000 together with drug paraphernalia. All ten people have been bailed whilst further enquiries are conducted.
The operation came after five months of work where officers visited the premises and were able to demonstrate a clear link between the behaviour of the staff and the promotion of cannabis production.
Detective Inspector Tom Chisholm, who heads the force’s Drugs Investigation Team, said: “Cannabis is currently the biggest drugs market in the West Midlands; we have found that most criminal gangs will be involved in cannabis in some way as it is low risk and high profit to produce.
“Over the last few years we have seen a proliferation of hydroponic shops in the West Midlands; currently there are 40 to 50 premises across the force area. There is a clear link with the items sold through these premises to equipment we find during drugs raids it was a natural step to carry out this operation.
“We have also found that more people, who wouldn’t ordinarily produce the drug, are growing their own cannabis for profit. The force is attending and dismantling on average one cannabis set up a day in the West Midlands, it is not only a huge drain on our resources but also a risk to the public as most set ups are illegally abstracting electricity which often results in damaging properties or even causing a house fire.”
Over the last ten years, the chemical content of the cannabis has increased from three per cent to 17 per cent which makes it highly addictive.
DI Chisholm continued: “By targeting suppliers we are able to disrupt markets through another avenue, at this time there is a lack of legislation for shops supplying growing equipment clearly they must abide by the law but there is no licensing agreement in place which would restrict their trading.”
While officers were conducting searches at the homes and business addresses yesterday as part of this operation, the Drugs Investigation Team were called to an unrelated cannabis factory in West Bromwich.
The Drugs Investigation Team has arrested approximately 30 people each month since they were formed last June. They operate seven days a week and comprises 15 detective constables, three detective sergeants and one detective inspectors.
The team works regularly with force’s Cannabis Disposal Team, the UK Border Agency, utility companies, housing associations and landlords as well as local communities.
Anyone with information on cannabis production or dealing is asked to call local police on 101 or via the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
For information on drugs and how to get help and support, Talk to to Frank the confidential drugs advice service.