Cannabis Grows Thriving in Empty UK Police Buildings

Liz Filmer
31 Aug 2022

A cannabis farm found inside a deserted magistrate’s court in West Bromwich is the most recent in a pattern of lucrative weed grows discovered taking over abandoned, austerity-hit institutions and businesses across the UK. 

Police seized 2,000 plants from the cannabis factory functioning inside the former court. The court was previously closed as part of a £41 million savings drive in 2011.

Britain’s illegal cannabis industry has thrived and expanded over the last 15 years. It is thought to be worth in the region 2.5 billion. Business is booming, and it appears to be proving far more resilient to austerity than the criminal justice system designed to stop it. 

This is just the latest in a long line of such incidents. In November 2021, police found a cannabis farm inside another abandoned magistrates court in Runcorn, Cheshire, that again had fell victim to Ministry of Justice spending cuts in 2017. 

Only last month, an enormous cannabis grow was uncovered under the noses of law enforcement in a police station in east London. Following a similar theme, this police station was closed down and sold by the Metropolitan Police earlier this year as a cost-cutting measure.

In March, authorities found a weed farm at Edgware police station in Harrow, which closed in 2017, in another example of police budget cuts. Another grow enterprise was located at the forsaken Failsworth police station in Oldham that had been shuttered back in 2013 due to budget cuts. 

The orchestrators of these big grows are opting to use the shut-down premises as a cover to grow in plain sight in towns and cities across the country.

“There is the obvious irony of failed businesses and institutions being taken over by an illegal industry. There is high demand, and large profits. it’s easy to set up grow-ops in abandoned buildings, so there is the motivation and the opportunity. Part of this irony is that a legal cannabis industry would provide large tax revenues as well as employment.” -Gary Potter, a criminologist at Lancaster University. 

The UK’s total illicit cannabis production is estimated at around 255–735 tonnes annually. Of course, a large part of the industry is dominated by organised crime gangs responsible for many of these prominent grows that span whole buildings. With such enterprises comes violence and exploitation, particularly of trafficked workers from Asia and Eastern Europe.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, police carried out a barrage of busts on cannabis farms. Last year the Met Police raided double the number of cannabis farms in 2020. In 2021 they raided 455, more than any of the four previous years. 

With more budget costs predicted and the cost of living crisis that we currently face in the UK and across Europe, it is hard to see how things will change as people look to make money wherever they can, even under the noses of law enforcement.


Liz Filmer