Cannabis Factories Keep Being Found in Abandoned Police Stations and Courts

Weed gangs using Britain’s disused crime fighting infrastructure as cover is a sure sign that something is not going to plan.
Max Daly
London, GB
cannabis factory abandoned court
Police unloading weed plants after raid on a cannabis farm in Glasgow. Photo: Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images.

A cannabis farm found in a shuttered magistrate’s court in West Bromwich is the latest in a string of lucrative weed grows discovered taking over abandoned, austerity-hit institutions and businesses in the UK. 

Police seized 2,000 plants on Sunday from the cannabis factory operating inside the former court which closed as part of a £41 million cost-cutting drive by the Ministry of Justice in 2011. A 34-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of cultivating cannabis when the grow was found, but was later released without charge. 

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As Britain’s £2.5 billion illegal cannabis industry has thrived and expanded over the last 15 years, with police struggling to keep up, it has proven to be far more resilient to austerity than the criminal justice system tasked with stopping it. 

In November last year a cannabis farm was found inside another abandoned magistrates court, at Halton, in Runcorn, Cheshire, shut by the Ministry of Justice in 2017 to save money. Last month a large cannabis factory was found in a police station in the Isle of Dogs in east London. It was closed down and sold by the Metropolitan Police earlier this year as a cost-cutting measure. In March a weed farm was found at Edgware police station in Harrow, closed in 2017 as part of austerity-led police budget cuts. Another farm was discovered at the abandoned Failsworth police station in Oldham, shuttered in 2013 due to police budget cuts. 

What is more, the weed crews have opted to use the shut-down premises as cover to grow their product in plain sight in towns and cities across the country.

Illegal weed grow gangs have not just been more successful in staying afloat than courts and police stations, they have moved their businesses into a range of other institutions and businesses battered by austerity – such as abandoned pubs, schools, nightclubs, care homes, post offices and a scores of shuttered high street shops around the UK.

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“There is the obvious irony of failed businesses and institutions being taken over by an illegal industry,” said Gary Potter, a criminologist at Lancaster University specialising in Britain’s secret cannabis cultivation world. 

“But there is high demand, large profits and it’s easy to set up grow-ops in abandoned buildings, so there is the motivation and the opportunity. Part of this irony is that a legal cannabis industry would provide large tax revenues as well as employment.”   

Estimates for the UK’s total illicit cannabis production range from between 255–735 tonnes annually Part of the industry is dominated by gangsters, who are responsible for high levels of violence and exploitation, particularly of trafficked Albanian workers.

During the COVID-19 lockdown VICE World News revealed that police had carried out a flurry of busts on cannabis farms. Last year it was revealed the Met Police raided double the number of cannabis farms in 2020 – 455 – than any of the four previous years.