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A cannabis factory "in every street", dealer tells Argus
Police have discovered rising numbers of hidden cannabis farms set up by criminals in rented homes across Sussex.
One dealer told The Argus he believed there was now a drug factory on every major street in Brighton and Hove.
Instead of risking discovery by growing cannabis in industrial quantities themselves, gangs are using an army of small-time dealers to grow super-strength “skunk” in residential homes across the county.
Earlier this month Sussex Police launched a handbook to help oblivious landlords spot the clues that their properties are being used to grow and sell drugs.
Police have also found evidence of landlords colluding with dealers to skim off drug profits for themselves.
So far this year officers have found 46 cannabis farms in residential properties in Sussex – already more than the whole of last year.
Argus reporter Bill Gardner was welcomed into one residential drug factory to lift the lid on a hidden network of drug dealers spreading out across the county.
I don't know what I was expecting exactly – but it certainly wasn’t this.
I thought drug dealers lived in filthy dens in grotty little side streets, perhaps with a posse of prostitutes, heavies and Rottweilers.
But instead I was standing at the door of a neat Regency town house on a pretty Hove street, waiting patiently for a criminal to let me inside.
Behind me, a mother pushed her pram down the tree-lined pavement and two schoolgirls wandered home along a row of parked cars.
Soon the door opened to reveal a respectable-looking young man dressed in shirt and jeans.
“Come in mate,” he said politely, ushering me into the house and through to a side-door to his basement flat.
Inside was a tiny hallway with three closed doors and a joss stick burning slowly on a table.
The dealer shut the door behind me and grinned.
“I call this my airlock,” he said. “You can’t smell anything bad can you?”
I shook my head.
“Good,” he said, kicking away a rolled up towel from the base of the left hand door before beckoning me quickly inside.
A sweet, almost sickly smell hit me right away. The room was darkened, with a black cloth covering over the single window.
On the ceiling, a giant silver pipe snaked between a set of piercing white lights and out of sight into an alcove.
The cannabis plants seemed huge. They were ranged in black pots in three rows of ten, with clumps of the drug hanging heavily from every branch.
“Pretty sweet, eh? They’re almost ready,” the drug dealer said, smirking proudly.
“So how much do you make off this?” I asked, trying to sound relaxed.
“Only about 14 grand a year profit including rent,” he said. “But I’m pretty small time compared to most of the growers around here.
“The thing is, it’s so easy. Landlords in Brighton are so stupid and most of them never bother coming to check what’s going on.
“As long as you keep the rent coming in, they don’t care. None of the neighbours have a clue either.”
He told me his expensive equipment had been rented from a so-called ‘head’ shop in downtown Brighton.
“That part’s all completely legal and they’ll take it back off you after you’ve finished. They know exactly what’s going on.
“They’ll even show you a scrapbook of seeds to buy before you start growing.”
The dealer told me many of the city dealers he knew chose not to live alongside their drug factories.
Instead, many employ “gardeners” to go round the rented flats to look after the precious plants.
“They go there about twice a week to make it look like someone’s living there – and sometimes the dealers put timers on the lights otherwise it might look suspicious,” he said.
“Usually there’s no way for the police or the neighbours to know what’s going on. I would say there is someone doing this on every street in Brighton now.”
According to Dean, cannabis production in Sussex is no longer directly in the hands of big time criminals.
After a police crackdown on skunk supply lines, the major players instead use small time dealers to grow cannabis for them in houses all over the city.
Each grower sends some of their crop to their money man, and they sell the rest in small “baggies” at premium prices to local smokers.
Dean said: “The problem is you lose money when you sell it in big bits so most people like to shift some of it themselves.
“It’s a hassle having people come round all the time though because people get suspicious. But it’s putting money back into the local economy so I think it’s a good thing for the city.”
Although the drug gangs make less money than when they grew the drug themselves in huge industrial operations, they have reduced their risk of serious punishment by spreading out production using small-time dealers.
Dean said: “There’s a huge hidden network of people in Brighton that has grown massively over the last few years.
“If the police find someone growing 300 plants, they’ll be in a lot of trouble. But if they find someone growing 30 plants, not much will happen.
“I know a guy who was found with a pretty major grow in his house and he got off with a caution.
“The reward is definitely worth the risk now.”
We sat chatting in the drug den for a few more minutes before it was time to go.
“Someone’ll be coming in a minute so you’d better shoot off,” he said.
As we said our goodbyes on his doorstep, a twenty-something man in a suit came up the stairs, looking nervous.
“Come in mate,” said the dealer, without a look at me, and I walked off quickly down the street.