Getting to root of Lothians’ growing cannabis problem

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With seizures around the region soaring in recent years, Ian Swanson looks at the rise in use and production of the drug

THE quantity of cannabis seized by police in and around Edinburgh has soared over the past four years. Earlier this month, officers confiscated what is believed to be the largest haul of the drug in the area after they stopped a van in West Lothian and found cannabis resin said to be worth about £575,000.

Just a few days later, a cannabis farm of more than 200 plants was found in a flat in Easter Drylaw Avenue, while only this week police carried out a raid on another city flat where residents reported a pungent smell in the stairwell.

New figures show Lothian and Borders Police seized a total of 7679 cannabis plants in 2010-11, as well as 133.5kg of herbal cannabis and 98kg of cannabis resin.

That compares with 1502 plants, 8.2kg of herbal cannabis and 18.6kg of cannabis resin in 2006-7, the most recent period for which statistics were produced.

The massive increase in cannabis seizures coincides with an apparent dramatic rise in use of the drug.

According to a poll of drug users for the 2011-12 Global Drug Survey, more people in the UK reported taking cannabis in the last year than smoking tobacco – 68 per cent said they had used cannabis, up from 64 per cent the year before, while 65 per cent said they had used tobacco, down from 70 per cent. The same survey found more Scottish respondents had tried cannabis than had tried tobacco.

Those working in the drugs field confirm cannabis is a big issue at the moment.

John Arthur, manager of drug support agency Crew 2000, says: “We have seen more people coming forward with cannabis-related problematic use than anything else. That has been the trend for a while now.

“It is a drug that has tended not to be taken seriously in the past, but for people who develop problematic use, it is a big problem.”

Mr Arthur says there is a trend towards stronger varieties of cannabis. He says: “It’s like with prohibition in America, bootleggers would get the same sentence if they were shifting a barrel of beer or a barrel of whisky but they could quadruple their profit by selling spirits instead of beer.

“People are now growing more strains of stronger cannabis because that gets the higher market value.”

He says higher-strength cannabis can net £40 or £50 more per ounce.

“Whether it’s being grown in a back bedroom, a whole house or a factory unit, the people involved will get a much greater return on their investment.”

Mr Arthur says as with alcohol, the vast majority of people using cannabis do not end up as problematic users, but he adds: “Both users and criminal justice need to understand that it has got the potential to harm.

“It’s often put down as low risk, and in some ways it is, but for those unfortunate enough to end up with problematic use, it can have a real impact.

“If you don’t have much money, being dependent on a substance costs a lot, but probably the biggest problem is psychological. It can exacerbate mental health problems.”

Detective Chief Inspector Colin Boyle, deputy head of Lothian and Borders Police organised crime unit, says cannabis production in this area ranges from serious criminals running massive money-making operations to individual users growing their own plants to save money.

He also points to the problem of heroin, where seizures have soared from 2.8kg to 25.1kg. He says: “Heroin is one of the most destructive drugs on the market and it’s worth noting the Scottish Government figures show a quarter of all heroin removed from Scotland in the past year has been recovered by officers from Lothian and Borders.”

DCI Boyle says tackling drugs is a top priority. He says: “We are constantly seeking to remove illegal drugs from the community. The figures show there has been good progress over the year. Co-operation from the public is vital. If anyone has information about a drug dealer in their area, we ask them to contact us directly or through Crimestoppers.”