Police in the United Kingdom arrested more than 1,000 individuals and confiscated more than 180,000 cannabis plants in a recent push to crack down on illegal marijuana cultivation. The eradication campaign, dubbed Operation Millie by U.K. law enforcement officials, was carried out throughout the month of June and involved every police force in England, Scotland and Wales, according to media reports.
Steve Jupp, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for Serious and Organized Crime, told reporters that the operation had “successfully disrupted a significant amount of criminal activity.”
Operation Millie was the largest cannabis eradication campaign to date, with more than 11,000 police officers across the U.K. participating in the month-long drive. The National Crime Agency and Immigration Enforcement were also involved in the operation, which saw the execution of more than 1,000 warrants during the month of June. Of the more than 1,000 arrested, 450 have since been charged with an offense.
In addition to the nearly 200,000 cannabis plants seized during Operation Millie, police also confiscated 15 to 20 firearms, approximately 40 other weapons and £650,000 ($825,000) in cash. Police estimated the value of the cannabis plants seized at £130 million, although some have suggested that such estimates from law enforcement are often inflated.
Raids Targeted Criminal Gangs
Police said that the operation was carried out not only to eradicate illicit cannabis cultivation sites but also to disrupt organized criminal gangs that use the money generated by the operations to fund other criminal activities. Other offenses committed by such gangs include money laundering, violence and trafficking in Class A drugs, all of which are offenses that “blight communities,” according to the NPCC. In the U.K., cannabis is designated a Class B drug, while more potentially addictive and dangerous substances such as heroin are listed as Class A drugs.
“We know that organized networks involved in cannabis production are also directly linked to an array of other serious criminality such as Class A drug importation, modern slavery and wider violence and exploitation,” said Jupp.
Police said that illicit cannabis growers have used structures of various sizes to house their operations, noting that illegal weed farms have been found in a range of buildings from empty residential homes to large industrial complexes. Often, the sites are dangerous because the operators are stealing electricity, posing a risk of fire. Locations can also be subject to water damage and strong fumes.
“This operation not only successfully disrupted a significant amount of criminal activity, but the intelligence gathered will also help inform future law enforcement across the country,” Jupp said. “Cannabis-related crime is often thought to be ‘low level’, however, there are clear patterns around the exploitation and violence organized crime groups are using to protect their enterprises. We also frequently find that cannabis production is just one aspect of their criminal operations and that they are complicit in wider offending which blights our communities.”
U.K. Police Chiefs Call For Drug Decriminalization
Late last year, the NPCC announced that the group is developing a plan to effectively decriminalize the possession of drugs including cannabis and cocaine. If adopted by the government, the use and possession of small amounts of recreational drugs would be treated as a public health issue for first-time offenders, rather than a criminal offense subject to prosecution and jail time or other punishment.
The proposals, which were developed by the NPCC and the College of Policing, would effectively decriminalize the possession of Class A drugs including cocaine and Class B substances such as marijuana. Under the plan, individuals caught with illegal drugs would be offered an opportunity to attend drug education or treatment programs, rather than being subjected to prosecution.
Police would take no further action against those who agree to complete the program, giving them a chance to avoid a criminal record. Those who fail to finish the drug program or who are subsequently caught with illicit drugs would still be subject to criminal prosecution.
Jason Harwin, the former NPCC lead on drugs and a former deputy chief constable, is working with the College of Policing on the new partial decriminalization strategy.
“We should not criminalize someone for possession of drugs,” he said in a statement reported by The Telegraph. “It should be diversion to other services to give them a chance to change their behaviors.”
Fourteen of the U.K.’s 43 police forces have already adopted policies similar to the drug decriminalization proposal from the nation’s police chiefs. But the plan is at odds with the country’s Conservative Party government, which has floated proposals to stiffen the penalties on recreational drugs including cannabis.