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'Scratch and sniff' cannabis cards to help public detect drug farms
7:41pm Tuesday 19th March 2013 in News
'SCRATCH and sniff' cannabis cards are being handed out by police to help members of the public detect drug farms.
They contain a chemical that replicates the smell of the plants when they are growing, which is a different smell to when it is being smoked.
Roger Critchell, from Crimestoppers, said: "Not many people know how to recognise the signs of cannabis cultivation which is increasingly happening in their neighbourhood, many are also not familiar with the established links between this crime and serious organised crime."
Dozens of cannabis farms have been found in St Helens over recent years, with locations including houses, shops and former churches.
The number discovered by the police has increased by 15 per cent nationally and between 2010 and 2012, 900 were uncovered on Merseyside - the sixth highest in the country.
Merseyside Police believes cannabis cultivation is directly linked to organised crime, with disputes between drugs gangs over the crops leading to violence and sometimes even firearms discharges.
Crimestoppers has organised for the 'scratch and sniff' cards to be delivered to homeowners in hotspot areas where the force has uncovered the largest number of cannabis farms recently.
Neighbourhood officers will be reinforcing the message with a 'pop-up cannabis farm' that shows passers-by what a cannabis factory can look like and gives them a chance to look inside at the kind of equipment commonly used by criminals.
Superintendent Paul White, a senior officer in the force's anti-gun and gang crime Matrix unit, said the public had an important role to play in helping the police tackle a serious problem.
He said: "Cannabis is not the harmless drug people think it is. It's the most widely used illegal drug in the UK and it is big business for criminal gangs. Those same gangs are also involved in violence, intimidation and gun crime, which blight the lives of decent, law-abiding people.
"We are increasingly finding higher numbers of smaller scale cannabis farms set up in houses and flats rather than industrial units. This means that drugs are being grown right amongst us and collectively, the public and the police need to stand shoulder to shoulder and root these drugs gangs out.
"The scratch and sniff cards and the 3D pop-up shop are great ways at telling the public what to look out for when they are out and about where they live.
"A distinct smell, sealed up windows, tampered with electrical wiring, delivery of gardening equipment, visitors at all times of the day and night - these may not seem significant individually but together, this may be a clear sign that a drugs gang is operating on your doorstep.
"My message to people who have this kind of information is: have the confidence to tell this to Crimestoppers. They are an independent charity, completely separate from the police, who you can pass information to completely anonymously. They in turn will tell us so that we can take the necessary action against these gangs who are damaging people's lives and our communities."
Signs to look out for:
• Strong and sickly sweet smell
• Large amounts of cannabis growing equipment
• Constantly covered or blocked off windows
• Visitors or deliveries at unsociable hours
• Strong and constant internal lighting day and night
• High levels of heat and condensation
• Constant buzz of ventilation
• Lots of cables and unusual wiring