Cannabis users in the UK have been aware for at least the last two months that there was a serious shortage of cannabis in the UK. Discussions on the drug strand of the Urban 75 website had been discussing the shortage in early August, and it was raised as a concern by harm reductionists at UKHRA in early September.
What had initially appeared to be a localised problem - which seemed to be affecting Liverpool , Cheshire, and some parts of Scotland, rapidly escalated and most parts of the UK were reporting shortages of cannabis within a few weeks.
At this point, various theories were being posited for this shortage, which was mainly having an impact on herbal cannabis. Some London-based commentators suggested (in August) that supplies were being held in reserve for the Notting Hill Carnival, and other sources suggested that growers had somehow formed a cartel, and were sitting on stockpiles to force costs up.
In practice, it seems more likely that a series of police actions across various parts of the UK had impacted on availability of home-grown herbal cannabis in the UK.
In May, Kent police raided a large production site. On August 10th, the BBC reported further raids in Faversham, Kent. The Guardian (August 29 2006) reported that police in Hertfordshire had closed 24 'factories' in the preceding four months and made a number of arrests.
Raids have also been reported in Wiltshire (July 2006) Catford, South London (August 2006), Swindon (July 2006), Lewes Sussex - september 2006, Clitheroe (July 2006), L.B. Barnet (July 2006), Ealing (August 2006), and a number of other areas.
Now at this stage, no 'formal' or coordinated action had been declared either by the Home Office or the Police. So in theory, this action was all uncoordinated, local activity.
But it seems that the net result of this has put a huge amount of pressure on other areas, forcing people to travel to secure cannabis in other cities, and in turn causing the shortage to increase.
The net result so far has been to force the prices up, and also to drive people towards the use of less safe substances.
For some cannabis users this has meant smoking imported, low grade cannabis resin, such as Soap. But with increased port and airport security, displaced demand and a domestic reliance on home-grown cannabis, shortage of resin is also being reported.
Drugs workers are concerned that the shortage of homegrown cannabis is increasing the risk of lapse amongst former opiate users. Several drugs workers have spoken to KFx highlighting clients who had previously been abstinent from opiates, but had kept themselves calm through their use of cannabis. The drought has resulted in a number of these clients returning to opiate use.
Any hope that the drought would come to an end will have been dashed by the announcement on the 25th September 2006 that the Police intended to launch a concerted campaign, involving 19 police forces and to run for the next two weeks (at least). The initiative, dubbed Operation Keymer, will include police forces in Cambridgeshire, Essex, Greater Manchester, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Humberside, Kent, Merseyside, Metropolitan, Norfolk, Northumbria, North Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, South Wales, South Yorkshire, Surrey, Sussex, West Yorkshire and Wiltshire.
Vernon Coaker, speaking for the Home Office, endorsed this campaign the same day. The Minister, who has declared he has sampled the drug in the past, said ""We fully support this crackdown, which sends out a powerful message that growing and dealing in cannabis will not be tolerated." [BBC].
What is not clear from the Police announcement or the Home Office comment is what inititiated this action, and this announcement at this time. It is fairly obvious that concerted (if not coordinated) action against cannabis cultivation has been taking place since at least July, and that this action has at least in part contributed to the current drought.
So the present announcement does not seem to be a "new" drive - more a formal announcement and extension of the current police action. But a credulous media happily reprinted the news story, provided by ACPO, complete with the helpful "How to Spot a Cannabis Farm" lists supplied by the Police.
Only the truly cynical would link the current drive, and the timing of the announcement, with any sort of Home Office involvement. It is of course impossible that the Home office would have initiated such a drive, using the closure of cannabis farms as a way to achieve 'rapid gains' on the back of recent criticism of the UK drug strategy by the ACMD, increased levels of young suppliers and the ongoing criticism by the right-wing press of cannabis reclassification.
And only the truly paranoid would look for the hand of Dr John Reid, who certainly has no interest in pitching for being Labour leader, overseeing such a campaign during the Labour Party Conference.
Either way, at the end of this 'Operation,' a number of producers will undoubtedly be removed from the production cycle. But the risk is that the end product will be production consolidated in the hands of a smaller number of more ruthless producers, moving in to replace the smaller local producers removed by this operation.
ACPO Press Release: