VIETNAMESE gangs in Northampton are now using horticultural textbooks and scientific methods in a bid to produce stronger, more potent cannabis.
Inside drug production dens discovered across the town, cannabis “gardeners” are using science textbooks, it has been revealed, to ensure they grow the most powerful drugs to meet the demands of an increasingly knowledgeable and demanding buyer.
Experts say they are now seizing cannabis on the streets of Northamptonshire with a higher proportion of THC – tetrahydrocannabinol – than ever seen before.
Drugs expert Dc John Thorogood, from Northamptonshire’s Serious Crime Unit, says historically, cannabis would have had around three to six per cent THC content, the chemical that provides drug users with their “high”.
Now, drugs are being seized from our streets with around 15 per cent THC.
The result, he says, is a drug that is stronger and more dangerous.
To do this, gardeners have to encourage the growth of the tips of the female flowering plants.
Gardeners remove male flowering plants, making the females compete with each other, producing bigger buds to provide more powerful skunk cannabis.
It is simple science which can produce huge profits for organised gangs and local drug dealers, who then sell the drug on street corners.
And all this, Dc Thorogood says, because the people who are buying the drug are now more educated about what they are looking for.
He said: “People shouldn’t think this is only a bit of cannabis. This is far stronger than it used to be.
“And if you look at the cannabis factories themselves now, what we do find is guides on how to maximise the quality of what they are producing because you now have an educated customer who knows what they want are the flowering tips.”
Such is the sophistication and organisation of cannabis factories that gangs are starting to split up their growing rooms and production facilities into separate houses.
Police across the county have started to find rented houses set aside solely for the process of drying cannabis leaves and the production of the drug, marking a new development in an increasingly professional operation.
“Previously you would have the plants in rooms in a house and the drying facility in the loft”, Dc Thorogood said.
“What we are finding now is you might have a factory but there will be no production side and instead you will have a separate factory that is just for the cultivation of the plant into a saleable drug.”
Increasingly police are also being tipped off about cannabis factories by fights breaking out in streets between gangs trying to steal or defend factories and their contents.
The results are rudimentary booby-traps, such as electrified cattle prods, to keep rivals away.
Dc Thorogood said: “What they will do is see the delivery of lights when the factory is being set up and then come back in 12 weeks when they know the plants are ready.
“That is why you also have booby-traps. They are not for us, the police, it is to keep other gangs out.
“I have seen some horror stories of booby-traps, but we haven’t seen them too much in Northamptonshire.“
He says the modern-day phenomenon of sophisticated cannabis factories, the role they play in international criminality and the strength of the drug itself, now means cannabis is far from the “innocent” drug often associated with the 1960s.
“People have a perception that cannabis is a safe drug, that it is ‘just a bit of weed’.
“I have interviewed numerous heroin users and the only common factor of why people say they take heroin is they started on cannabis.
“And it is the same people who are selling cannabis who are selling other drugs. These are serious drug dealers.”