Cannabis growing in the suburbs is soaring, with farms or factories being discovered every day, a report by the Association of Chief Police Officers says.
Police say that criminal gangs are increasingly renting out suburban homes to convert into cannabis factories.
And they are urging people to be wise to any suspicious goings-on in their neighbourhoods.
So how can you spot an illegal drug farm on your doorstep?
Unlike many criminal enterprises, there are telltale signs of cannabis cultivation, according to commander Allan Gibson, Acpo’s lead officer on the subject.
It might sound obvious, but most cannabis grows are discovered by passers-by or keen-nosed residents catching a whiff of the drug’s familiar smell. Police have even handed out scratch-and-sniff cards to help people recognise the scent.
Growers can’t get away from the fact that internal farming requires a lot of it: 2,000 watts running 12 hours a day in a small bedroom looks a lot like the sun, so look out for windows that are constantly blacked out to cover that up. Cannabis farms in spare rooms will have the tell-tale sign of curtains that never open.
Windows are constantly covered
Do your neighbours have the curtains drawn all day long? It might make it look like the house is unoccupied, but having windows blocked up with panelling or sheeting would suggest there’s something they don’t want you to see. This could be a sign that there are many budding plants inside soaking up bright artificial light.
Those lights also give off a lot of heat, so the old theory was that the house growing cannabis in the loft would be the one with no snow on the roof in winter. But nowadays growers use internal tents, that isolate a lot of the heat. This makes farms harder for police to spot using their infra-red cameras.
Thousands of pounds of equipment is needed to grow cannabis. Are items such as plant pots, fertiliser, fans and industrial lighting being delivered to the house, or being taken in and out?
Growers live in a paranoid world, always wondering when their door is going to get kicked in – not only by the police but by “enforcers”, violent criminals who make their living by stealing cannabis crops. For that reason many of them adopt Fort Knox-like security. Portcullises on the doors, bars on the windows and even CCTV cameras are not uncommon.
Constant buzz of ventilation
Hearing the constant noise of a fan? If it is on day and night, chances are it could be acting as ventilation for the cannabis grow.
Not all farms are inhabited by the grower so watch out for signs that there is no one actually living there: unkempt front gardens, or if your neighbour never leaves out any bin bags on collection day.
If the grower is in residence then it can go the opposite way. Perhaps the most surprising tell for having a grower next door might be their over-the-top neighbourliness as they overcompensate in their efforts not to annoy you or make you suspicious as to what they’re up to. As one grower told me: “I’m the nicest, most law-abiding citizen on my street, because the last thing I ever want is to give someone a reason to want to call the police to complain about me.”
Lots of visitors – and at unsociable hours
Frequent and varied visitors to a property, often at unusual times, could mean you just have a popular neighbour with a big family. But if unfamiliar faces are turning up next door day and night, it might be a sign that there’s something more sinister going on. One thing to watch for is lots of new faces coming knocking.
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