Cannabis use on increase despite general decline in narcotics trade

Fri, May 4, 2012, 01:00

ANALYSIS:THE LATEST two finds of cannabis growhouses, this time in Kilkenny, reflect exactly how the gangs behind them have been operating here.

They rent properties, then fit them out with heating, lighting, insulating and irrigation systems needed to grow cannabis crops quickly.

Illegal immigrants, usually Chinese or Vietnamese, are then brought in to run them, often living in poor conditions on site.

These gardeners, as they are known, frequently have poor English if any. And when arrested in recent years many of them have no idea where they even are. They are used because they constitute cheap or slave labour and also because of their expertise in tending crops to maximise size and potency.

Most of the growhouses found here in recent years have been owned and run by Vietnamese gangs, with a smaller number controlled by Chinese or Irish.

Since the recession began, demand for drugs such as cocaine has collapsed because users can no longer afford it.

However, at the same time Vietnamese-run gangs saw many of their growhouses raided in Britain and Northern Ireland and have moved into the Republic in search of a safer environment.

They have flooded the Irish market with cheap and potent “grass”, which has now replaced the cannabis resin that users here had been accustomed to for decades. Moreover, in so doing they have reinvented cannabis in the Republic.

Grass is effectively an unprocessed, dried cannabis plant ready for smoking. Cannabis resin comes in small blocks and is sprinkled into a roll-up cigarette for smoking.

The growhouse gangs use feeds and nutrients to increase the potency of a crop as it is growing. This has led to a situation where the grass now on offer is far more potent than traditional cannabis resin.

The increased potency has made the product extremely popular, ensuring that in an overall declining drugs market, the gangs behind the growhouses are enjoying a massive boom in business because user demand has rocketed.

Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan recently warned that while the sector had been dominated by Asian gangs in recent years, Irish criminals had begun to see how lucrative it was and were now moving in.