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A major piece of analysis by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) said the "landscape of the cannabis market has shifted dramatically", starting in Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark and the UK, which experienced "steep growth" in domestic production, followed thereafter by other European countries, including Ireland.
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As a result, the overall quantity of plants seized from industrial grow houses jumped, from 11,000 in 2011 to almost 38,000 in 2012.
Last November, Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan described the trade as a "a conveyor belt of money" for gangs. Based on its work, the GNDU estimates that the average industrial factory in 2012 and 2013 produced in the region of 1,300 plants in a harvest. Based on a valuation of 800 per plant in 2013 and five to six harvests, it estimates such factories had the potential to produce about 5.2m 6.2m of product annually.
In Ireland, there were 100 seizures of plants in 2007, 160 in 2008, rising sharply to 584 in 2011.
Irish Examiner Reporter
In 2012, plants were officially valued at half 2013 levels (400). Based on 28 industrial factories seized in 2012, this would indicate they had the potential to produce between 73m and 87m worth of plants a year.
These operations run around the clock, capable of producing a harvest, from seed to mature plant, within eight to 12 weeks. Sgt Roberts said the gangs can have five or six harvests in a year. Not only that, but different rooms have harvests at different stages, ensuring there is a constant supply of the drug to satisfy demand.
scale of the grow houses that the GNDU and local drug units were coming across.
"The change has been dramatic since 2007, with most cannabis herb now domestically cultivated," said Sgt Roberts.
The rise in cannabis related problems is one that is reported by drug projects around the country. Unpublished figures from the Health Research Board show that the number of people entering treatment for cannabis as their main problem drug reached 2,216 in 2012 (or 29% of all cases). This compares to 2,086 in 2011, 1,519 in 2009 and 963 in 2007 (17% of all cases).
An analysis by the GNDU provides a breakdown on the type of cannabis grow houses seized over the last three years. They are divided into medium operations (producing between 10 and 24 plants at a time), large (25 99), very large (99 499) and industrial (500+).
Also, there has been a continuing rise in the number of seizures of cannabis herb, from 2,358 to 2,568. Some of this herb, the final product from plants, is imported and some of it is from domestic factories.
And with 11 industrial plants seized up to Sept 2013, this would suggest a total potential valuation in the region of 57m to 68m.
"This is not cannabis, but very potent skunk and weed. In the last three to four years, I deal with this more than any other drug. It is a serious issue."
TO one seasoned community worker, who is far from a scaremonger, the cannabis now is not cannabis as previous generations know it.
Parallel to that, the number of seizures of cannabis plants has doubled, from 253 to 513.
"He's psychotic. He's had shots fired into his house and his Ma has sent his brother out to deal to earn money and pay off the debt. I'm getting loads of referrals from probation and garda."
The GNDU responded by setting up a dedicated national operation, code named Nitrogen, in 2007 to coordinate efforts across the country targeting cannabis production, which, Sgt Roberts said, has achieved Old Nike Basketball Shoes For Sale "significant success".
In terms of the quantity of product seized, the figures show a 10 fold increase in the amount of cannabis plant confiscated, jumping from 5,713 to 55,483. The quantity of cannabis herb seized also rose, from 673kg to 994kg. At the same time, the quantity of cannabis resin, although still significant, fell from 1.7 tonnes to 1.2 tonnes.
There is, as yet, no breakdown on the form of cannabis involved, but much of the recent rise is expected to be linked to high strength herb.
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As the figures published in the Irish Examiner today show, the number of resin seizures collapsed, from 2,839 in 2009 to 683 in 2012.
With the recession, gangs have had little problem finding and renting unused warehouses, typically in remote locations, as well as normal residential properties, including in well off areas, previously largely untouched by the drugs industry.
These figures show that cannabis resin accounted for 52% of all cannabis seizures in 2009, but only 18% in 2012. Back in 2011, resin accounted for 75% of seizures.
the production south of the border, involving principally Vietnamese and Chinese," said Sgt Roberts.
As the accompanying table shows, the scale of production has increased since 2011, when there were 27 very large factories and 11 industrial seized. By 2012, that increased to 48 very large and 28 industrial factories (with 24 and 11 respectively to Sept 2013).
The operation in the north followed the mushrooming of cannabis production in Britain and other parts of the EU in previous years.
For decades, cannabis resin, a milder form of the drug, accounted for the bulk of cannabis in the country. While significant quantities are still being caught, its dominance has evaporated.
He said one teenager he was dealing with has built up a serious debt from his use of weed.
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