Almost daily there are news reports of cannabis grows being uncovered. In the main they appear to be small scale operations that are often little more than a personal grow.
Other times they will be larger and are intended for some profit, but still may only involve a person or two.
However every once and a while (although more regularly these days) a massive growing operation is uncovered. These often tend to be for large scale production and purely for profit.
In recent years it has become more common to learn that an Asian criminal gang and/or Asian growers are involved with these operations.
This is not to suggest that growers of other nationalities, including Irish, are not producing on a large scale. However these grows don’t tend to involve the alleged use of human trafficking, forced labour and other questionable actions which have emerged in recent years.
As the market has switched from one reliant solely on cannabis imports to one featuring more domestic production, we have seen the rise of criminal gangs involved with cannabis cultivation.
It has long been suggested that Ireland was/is a hub for drugs entering into Europe, now perhaps some gangs see it as prime location for the mass production of cannabis.
As the CSO crime figures show cultivation in Ireland has increased rapidly in the past decade. From less than 50 offences in 2004, to almost 400 offences in 2013
Many see large scale cannabis production in Ireland as a relatively harmless pursuit, yet the research shows that is not always the case. Trafficking, forced labour, threats against life, assaults, damage to property and other dark elements exist.
Last week it emerged that a 54-year-old Vietnamese woman allegedly found locked inside a grow-house has brought a legal challenge to a refusal to declare she is the victim of trafficking
Also last week Grainne O’Toole of the Migrants Right Centre stated that people were being trafficked into Ireland to produce cannabis. The organisation claims to have identified 22 cases and at least 70 people, predominately Asian, who are imprisoned and that were potentially victims of trafficking
This is not the first time that the Migrants Right Centre has expressed concerns. Last year it issued a report which looked into trafficking victims who are ending up in Irish prisons
The report showed that over 75% of people sent to jail for cannabis production were not of Irish origin. It revealed that more people of Asian origin get sent to prison for cannabis growing than Irish people
The Irish Examiner as part of their investigations into cannabis last year also reported on forced labour in the cannabis trade. It suggested that in the trade some gardeners are little more than ‘slaves’
Another often forgotten aspect of large scale cannabis cultivation was highlighted by the Irish Examiner’s investigation. This relates to a number of landlords who have seen their properties damaged by individuals involved with large scale production of cannabis
How much of the cannabis in circulation that comes from grows using forced labour is hard to tell. Many consumers are unaware of the origins of their cannabis, some even unconcerned. Others however do make an effort to either supply themselves, or know the grower of their cannabis.
Arguably there are two factors which are key: consumers and the law.
Cannabis use is historic and unlikely to stop anytime soon, despite the perhaps ill founded wishes of prohibitionists. So arguably consumers need to make an effort to insure they are not supporting such criminal gangs.
Many will argue the onus is on the state to take a significant part of the trade from out of criminal hands and into the open. A regulated market would largely remove the need and desire for criminal gangs to exploit people in such a way.
The law largely determines if the state or criminals benefit from cannabis growing and its use. The trade is very lucrative and thus these sinister elements are unlikely to disappear by their own accord. If anything we may see more tragic cases emerge.
For now all we can do is encourage consumers to do their best to ensure their cannabis doesn’t come from such suppliers. While the community as a whole must also push for law reform, so that such exploitation doesn’t continue.
As stated earlier the majority of these problems are due to criminal gangs and even perhaps prohibition itself.
There are many growers who go about their lives peacefully. Neither I, nor anyody reading, should come to the conclusion that growers are bad people. On the whole cannabis grows here are uneventful and go unnoticed.
But one must acknowledge these dark elements that exist, and arguably we must do our best to tackle them.
It is in all our interests (both enthusiasts and prohibitionists) that this darker side to grow houses is removed. Of course both sides might have different views about how we might achieve this, but I can only see only one reliable plan.
I suggest it is time we ended prohibition, as the consequences highlighted in this post are just further proof of the damage it is doing.
However one suspects only a few of the readers imagines this will happen anytime soon.