In a move that seems to be replicated in at least one UK city every year, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) announced last week that they intend to cause a cannabis drought. Operation Broadley, which involves the police forces of Cheshire, Cumbria, Lancashire, Manchester, Merseyside and North Wales, along with the North West Regional Organised Crime Unit (Titan), aims to cause a cannabis drought in the North West and the imprisonment of many involved in the trade. Whilst this is nothing new – police forces constantly promise a drought of one drug or another – there is an additional distressing element to the strategy, as the main idea seem to be the encouragement of spying on your neighbours.
The press release announcing Operation Broadley, which is full of all the sensationalist language you might expect, calls on the public to “report their suspicions” that a property is being used for cannabis production. Amongst the suspicious signs that we’re told to be ever vigilant of are:
- Properties that receive short visits.
- Properties that nobody seems to live in.
- Gardening equipment and compost.
Whilst this alone should worry you due to the climate of suspicion and fear that it creates, whether you agree with drug law reform or not, you should also be worried about the short-sightedness of this approach. Two key figures involved in Operation Broadley discuss the problem of criminal gangs and their control of the drug market. The Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable, Terry Sweeney, had this to say:
“Criminals involved in running these cannabis farms are part of organised gangs prepared to use extreme violence and intimidation to protect and expand their illegal business interests.”
Whilst Titan’s Detective Superintendent, John Lyons, spoke in almost identical terms:
“An increasing number of people who grow cannabis are directly funding dangerous, organised criminal gangs. These gangs are often responsible for gun crime, violence and intimidation across the North West.”
Re:Vision agrees with Terry Sweeney and John Lyons that the criminal control of drugs is a dangerous thing, however, that is where our agreement ends. By taking the approach of Operation Broadley, the best that they can hope for is a short-term drop in the supply of cannabis. Demand will not have dropped in the slightest and as such, the market will be very valuable to any budding dealers who can raise prices and fund criminals themselves; possibly even the same ones higher up the chain. The higher the risk of being imprisoned for selling something the higher the reward for selling it is going to be; whilst it continues to be in prohibition, this is true of cannabis.
Even if the North West police forces and Titan do manage to implement a momentary famine on cannabis, this is just a matter of one recreational drug. Black markets will swarm with plentiful supplies of other, harder and potentially more dangerous drugs. Users will seek other ways to get their high. They could turn be tempted by other prohibited drugs. They could turn to alcohol, which Professor David Nutt claims is more harmful than just about any prohibited drug. Worse still can be the tailored substitutes that appear where the gap in the market is; In Russia, when heroin supplies were cut drastically, many users turned to the devastatingly harmful krokodil, a drug made from legally obtained items that literally rots the skin.
Re:Vision suggests an alternative to the measures set in action in Operation Broadley. We suggest that the best way to eliminate criminals from the market is the control and regulation of cannabis – and, beyond Operation Broadley, all drugs. This would mean that cannabis would no longer be prohibited and all suppliers would have to be licensed, and importantly they would have to prove that their supply was safe. Although this alone would not necessarily stop the black market, with the product already proven to be without impurities and prices being reasonable, customers would have no reason to support the illegal sales. Plus, Greater Manchester Police would be able to spend the money wasted on Operation Blackout – on top of any benefits gained through the taxation of cannabis – on something a little more pressing.
Perhaps Terry Sweeney puts it best in the press release when he says:
“The people of Greater Manchester can help to stop these evil people planting their seeds of destruction.”
This is indeed true, but not in the way Terry Sweeney intended. If you want to see a world where criminal gangs do not make large amounts of money from the drug market, then the most sensible thing you can do is support the movement for control and regulation. To find out more, visit our website at revisiondrugs.org and join our Facebook.