Gardai have admitted the rise in home grown cannabis cultivation is a “concern” in Co Longford as criminals look to cash in on the drug’s rising popularity.
As revealed by the Leader three weeks ago, more than €100,000 worth of cannabis plants have been seized by detectives, leading to fears of a major increase in domestic grow-your-own operations springing up across the county.
Among the many factors which gardai believe may have contributed to its rise centre largely on Longford’s predominantly rural nature and its large supply of cheap and affordable housing.
Another catalyst has been the recession, insiders estimate. With less disposable income, so-called niche drugs typified by the likes of heroin and cocaine has left many turning to more affordable alternatives instead.
This week, Longford Superintendant Denis Shields said gardai were acutely aware of cannabis’ growing acceptance within the criminal underworld.
“It is a concern,” he said, when contacted by the Leader over the past seven days. “The nature of the terrain in Longford would suggest that criminals are utilising vacant places or renting places that are remote in nature.”
As such Supt Shields issued a plea to homeowners living in some of Co Longford’s most isolated areas to contact gardai if suspicious that drug cultivation may be taking place nearby.
His appeal was likewise directed at unsuspecting property holders and landlords.
“What I would be asking people is for people in rural areas to be vigilant and to assist us in identifying any areas where they suspect this type of activity is going on,” he said.
Increasing detection rates led gardai to roll out its well documented Operation Nitrogen initiative in 2010 in an effort to combat the sale and production of cannabis nationwide.
At the time, Garda commissioner Martin Callinan admitted organised crime gangs were switching to this type of production following the closure of head shops and because it was a low-maintenance, high-return activity.
But it is the recognised uspurge in low level operations where plants are grown solely for the punter’s own ends which is proving particularly difficult for gardai to detect.
At a Joint Policing Committee (JPC) meeting in Granard last week, Superintendent Ian Lackey admitted that while drugs offences were on the slide, home grown cultivation was still very much evident.
“The bigger ones (operations) are easier to catch because they use high volumes of electricity,” he said, in between revealing possession offences had fallen by over 30 per cent since last year.
Speaking after that meeting, Supt Lackey revealed cultivation had become particularly attractive to criminals as a consequence of its all round frugal cost base.
“The whole thing with cultivation is the economics of it. With detections though, a lot of it is based on garda activity. We have and we are out there searching,” he said.