Police and the independent charity Crimestoppers last week launched ‘Scratch and Sniff’, an initiative to help people spot the tell-tale signs of cannabis factories.
The objective of the campaign is to raise public awareness so that more people report suspicious activity to police, or if they wish to remain anonymous, to contact Crimestoppers.
The campaign is being launched as new figures reveal there was a 44 percent increase in cannabis factories across Northern Ireland in the last year.
A total of 130 cannabis factories were uncovered in the year April 2013-March 2014.
The previous year (April 2012-March 2013), a total of 90 factories were uncovered.
In the first five months of this reporting year (April-August 2014), a total of 49 factories have been uncovered.
Police officers across Northern Ireland will be distributing ‘scratch and sniff’ cards to the public to educate and inform them about the signs to spot and detect cannabis factories by recognising the specific smell of growing cannabis.
The cards contain an element that replicates the smell of cannabis in its growing state which is a different smell to when it is being smoked.
Speaking about the initiative, Assistant Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “More than two cannabis factories are being uncovered every week in Northern Ireland. They are illegal and they are dangerous. The money generated by them runs into millions of pounds. That’s money going into the pockets of organised criminals - used to fund even more criminal activity.
“From 1 April 2014 until 31 August 2014, police have arrested over 1,110 people for drugs offences and removed an estimated £3.9million of drugs from our streets. In that same time period we have also uncovered 49 cannabis factories across Northern Ireland.
“Over the coming weeks officers across Northern Ireland will be distributing ‘scratch and sniff’ cards to the public so that they will be able to recognise the signs and smells of cannabis factories in their local communities. We know that people may not realise that the empty, run down house or flat on their street with people coming and going may actually be a cannabis factory. It’s not just the stereotype of the remote rural dwelling or disused industrial unit.”
Local Chief Inspector Nicky Thompson added: “The Scratch and Sniff initiative is a new approach to a growing problem. The new cards will allow members of the community to help tackle the drug problem in our society. The distinctive smell is a tell tale sign of cannabis cultivation which the public should report to the PSNI or to Crimestoppers.
“If you do have any concerns about drug cultivation, dealing or supply in your community, please call local police on the 101 non-emergency number. You can also report via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. This information can result in searches being conducted which lead to drugs being seized or cannabis farms being closed down.”