Police chiefs urge ban on cannabis seed sales

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The Independent Online
NEW LAWS to ban the sale of cannabis seed and dope-growing equipment are being urged by police chiefs, it was disclosed yesterday.

The Home Office is also being pressed to bring in legislation to introduce a new penalty forcing people caught in possession of cannabis to have anti-drug counselling. First-time users would be given a choice between being prosecuted or receiving a caution, plus some treatment.

Both ideas are being promoted by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), in an attempt to clamp down on the use and availability of cannabis, which is the most popular drug in Britain.

There is concern about the an upsurge in the number of people growing cannabis at home in the past five years, particularly the strong "skunk" variety. Home-growers are exploiting a legal loop-hole that allows them to buy cannabis seeds and the growing equipment legitimately from specialist shops and mail order.

The cultivation of cannabis plants is illegal, but not the sale or purchase of seeds. Many cultivators grow the drug for their own consumption, but others produce crops worth tens of thousands of pounds to sell.

Colin Phillips, Chief Constable of Cumbria, and head of ACPO's drug committee, said he had raised the issue with Keith Hellawell, the new British "drugs tsar", and would be urging Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to introduce a new offence of possession of seed and plant-growing equipment with the intention of cultivating cannabis.

He said: "A large number of shops, specialising in the supply of hydroponic [water culture] growing equipment, have emerged throughout the country... it is believed that some even supply small cuttings of cannabis plants. In addition, cannabis seed is supplied wholesale through various distributors nationwide. As the law stands there is no specific offence of either supplying cannabis seed or supplying hydroponic systems."

There are an estimated 500,000 illegal cannabis plants being grown in Britain. Seeds cost from pounds 40 to pounds 70 for a packet of 10, depending on variety. Growing equipment, which includes trays and a lighting system, starts at pounds 75.

Mr Phillips is also keen for the Government to adopt a scheme known as "caution plus", which is being piloted in a small number of voluntary projects including West Yorkshire and Bristol.

Under the system, anyone caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis on their first, second or possibly third time, is given the choice of receiving counselling as well as a caution. Chief constables believe this system should be made compulsory, although they acknowledge it would need a huge injection of extra cash to pay for treatment centres and counsellors.

The number of cautions given for possession of cannabis has increased almost tenfold in a decade, from 4,048 in 1986 to 40,391 by 1995.

Mr Phillips said that Home Office officials were "encouraging" about the proposals and that discussions were on-going.