10 December 2012

From Pay Day loans to the Pot-Trap

How poverty and pay-day loans are driving people to the cannabis cultivators.
As austerity bites, bills soar and Christmas hoves in to view, the legitimised high street “loan-sharks” – the pay-day loan companies, are minting it. But as CABs around the country will attest, more and more people are struggling to meet repayments or astronomic interest rates. People already in debt face losing more and more under a burden of crippling debt.Outside the same CABs, an offer of salvation is at hand - Cannabis cultivation.
As Police enforcement activity against large cannabis farms has become more and more effective, some cannabis cultivators have adopted a different strategy: instead of growing 500 plants in one house, why not grow 50 plants across ten houses? That way, it’s less likely that you lose the entire crop, and it requires ten times as much police research, ten warrants and ten raids. All of this needs to be executed in the limited germination-to-harvest time-frame.

Whereas previously, growers would have rented properties themselves for larger grow-houses and installed their own gardener, with smaller growing set-ups, there’s no need to rent a whole property. It’s easier to find someone who has a spare room and install the plants in there. For a while, people wanting a bit of extra money provided much of this space. But, of late reports from a number colleagues highlight that it is people falling deeper and deeper in to debt are being approached by growers. The offer is typically to have debts cleared in return for growing space. Significantly, some workers suggest that those in debt are being targeted with these offers; a colleague in the Midlands said that he knew of people being approached in the queue outside the CAB being approached with a view to housing a grow-room.

From the growers’ point of view, it’s a minimal risk, maximum return situation. They may get grow space for little outlay. The person who lives in the property, afraid of repercussions, is unlikely to share information with the Police. If there is enforcement action, the grower is insulated from risk of prosecution. The Occupier ends up running the risks, for minimum, if any reward.

For the people caught in this position, the situation is dire. On the one side, there is escalating interest if pay-day loans go unpaid. This could result in court action or loss of housing due to mounting debt. On the other hand, there is the risk of criminal proceedings and possible custodial sentences for cultivation of cannabis. If this wasn’t bad enough, there is the additional risk of reporting the growers or failing to cooperate in delivering the harvest.

Another worker working with a woman in this situation described her client’s intense fear as the plants grew bigger that someone would discover her harvest. But stuck in a triangle of debt, fear of police and fear of growers she felt utterly trapped and couldn’t see a resolution. Her only hope, as she saw it, was to get to harvest time, clear her debts and start over.

It seems likely that as more people are forced deeper in to debt and end up taking out loans that they can’t repay, there will be a growing pool of desperate people for the cannabis cultivators to draw on. For those facing this situation or already trapped in this position we need some responses. These could include:·        

  • Education and awareness raising within debt-advice services to highlight the perils of being drawn in to cannabis cultivation as a solution to unmanageable debt
  • A police amnesty so those who have been drawn in to allowing cannabis cultivation can get out of the situation without criminalisation and with regard for personal safety;  
  • Housing providers taking a supportive view of people coerced in to such cultivation so enforcement action doesn’t result in homelessness.

 At this stage it is hard to know the extent of debt is driving people to be unwilling hosts for cannabis growers. But anecdotal evidence says it is on the increase. It is important that those stuck in this situation are recognised not as villains but as victims.


John Mickane said...
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