An innovative way of encouraging the public to spot the tell-tale signs of cannabis farms hidden in their communities is today being launched by Crimestoppers and Merseyside Police.   Thousands of ‘scratch and sniff’ cards have been posted through people’s doors to mark the start of a week of enforcement action and publicity by the police and the independent charity.

The campaign aims to tackle the growing problem of cannabis cultivation in Merseyside and the UK by encouraging people to report suspicious smells and other tell-tale signs to the police or Crimestoppers.

The number of cannabis farms being 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.

The cards contain an element that replicates the smell of cannabis when the plant is in its growing state. which is a different smell to when it is being smoked.

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. Officers will be on hand to talk to people in more detail about their concerns about drugs in their area and also help them find out more about the harmful side effects of cannabis.

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

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