‘Cannabis gangs behind grow your own boom’

COMPANIES selling equipment for cultivating plants without soil and with artificial light have revealed a huge sales boost due to the continued growth of the ­“urban homegrown market”.

Many hydroponic users like this grower stick to legal produce but drugs gangs are involved elsewhere. Picture: Getty

Police have claimed the rise is linked to the cannabis industry as growing operations are uncovered all across Scotland with on average one farm a day being raided by ­officers.

However, industry leaders have disputed this claim, stating instead that increased public awareness of food security and people’s interest in harvesting their own fruit and vegetables are responsible for the growth in sales.

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Kenny Simpson, who was a drugs squad sergeant for more than 20 years and is now national coordinator for Police Scotland’s Statement of Opinion (Stop) unit, believes that it would be “naive” to think the success of such companies was down to the “grow-your-own enthusiast”.

He said: “The industry isn’t built on budding lettuce growers or even guys growing some cannabis for a few spliffs in a cupboard. It’s down to gangs harvesting crops on a com­mercial basis. It’s less corner shop and more giant supermarket.

“These criminals can legally buy the materials and equipment needed to set up their illegal operations. The cannabis market in the UK is now largely self-sufficient with gangs only limited by their own imaginations.”

A fortnight ago police in Edinburgh raided a cannabis farm above a children’s play centre, while plants have also been recovered from within a disused school and church, as criminals minimise their risk by setting up small-scale farms in a wide range of locations.

However Gavin Thomson, owner of Premier Hydroponics, Scotland’s biggest supplier, believes his industry is being “grossly misrepresented”.

He said: “The hydroponics industry is about growing plants 50 per cent bigger in half the time, using 99 per cent less water than soil.

“There may be some of our customers who use the equipment for illegal activity but we in no way condone that. If a person stabs someone, the police and media don’t go demonising the supermarkets and shops that sell knives.

“What is happening is the doing down of an industry that is at the forefront of addressing two of the big world issues of our time, namely famine and drought.”

Online retailer LightBulbs Direct has reported “significant growth” in the sales of LED light bulbs which have been proven to encourage the growth of plants and fruits.

Tom Pratt, general manager, said: “It’s interesting to see hydroponics has also experienced a boom in sales. We conducted a study recently and found that a third of people grow their own produce because they believe it is cheaper than buying it at the supermarket.”

Growing equipment is now so sophisticated that when it is used to grow drugs, the yield is typically 20 to 30 per cent stronger. Police have expressed fears over the mental and physical health effects on frequent users.

The Scottish Government is studying a report submitted by an independent expert review group to consider powers available to tackle the sale and supply of new psychoactive substances (NPS) such as legal highs and high-strength cannabis.