Cannabis: The ugly truth about child slavery in secret farms in Scotland cannot be ignored by users – Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Hidden Scottish farms which cultivate cannabis on an industrial scale are tended by children who have been trafficked to this country and held against their will in conditions of slavery.

For many recreational cannabis users in Scotland, the news that child slaves are used in its production will be a shocking and inconvenient truth (Picture: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)
For many recreational cannabis users in Scotland, the news that child slaves are used in its production will be a shocking and inconvenient truth (Picture: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

For many recreational cannabis users in Scotland, this will come as a shocking and inconvenient truth, but it is happening now and on wider scale than you might think.

When you think of trafficking, you probably think of sex workers, or domestic servitude: people duped into signing up to a new life in the UK and then pressed into service against their will on arrival.

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This is of course true, but there is another aspect to this story and one that will make uncomfortable reading for many people who enjoy cannabis and believe it to be harmless to themselves and the world around them.

The Scottish Guardianship Service, run in partnership by children’s charity Aberlour and the Scottish Refugee Council, works with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people and child victims of trafficking.

It exists to support them through the complex asylum and trafficking processes, while building skills, confidence and social networks. Guardians will help these young people to understand and participate in the complex processes they find themselves in, to find their feet and to come to terms with some of the trauma they may have experienced prior to and during their journey to the UK.

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Since it was established a little more than a decade ago, dozens of trafficked children, usually from Vietnam, come through the doors of the guardianship service, as a direct result of the cannabis trade in Scotland.

On arrival in Britain, they are locked up in converted tenement flats and forced, sometimes in slave-like conditions to tend cannabis crops in order to service the ‘debt owed’ for their transportation to the UK. In many cases, they will be unable to leave the premises and may be subjected to other forms of abuse and maltreatment.

Young people in this situation, who make it to the guardianship service have either escaped or are brought there by the police following a raid on a farm.

Without the provision of support, there is a significant risk that these young people will be scooped up by their handlers and ‘re-trafficked’. This is a multi-faceted problem about which little is known but demands attention from Scotland’s decision-makers and from the public, particularly those who currently supply the demand to Scotland’s cannabis trade.

The Scottish Parliament passed legislation a short time ago which is helping victims of trafficking in several ways.

It allows for the police and social work to refer victims directly into the guardianship service and to disregard any criminal behaviour that they have been coerced into, but we need to do more.

Liberal Democrats would take this business out of the hands of traffickers, clean it, tax it and make it safe. In the meantime, we need to alert private citizens who use cannabis to the dark underbelly of the trade.

Trafficking children for cannabis cultivation is a form of modern slavery, pure and simple. We need to work together to end it now.

Alex Cole-Hamilton is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for Edinburgh Western

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