Growing and selling cannabis is a key part of this business model. It is relatively cheap to produce and there are thousands of customers in Bedfordshire alone to sell to.
But these gangs deliberately prey on and exploit vulnerable people.
It might be trafficking people into the country to work on their farms, ‘cuckooing’ people’s homes and using them as a base to deal from, or recruiting children as drug runners to sell their products.
As a force, we are seeing more young people involved in the illicit drugs market in Bedfordshire.
We have also noticed a definite pattern emerging where dealing cannabis is a gateway for children to start committing crime. Many of these children we come across are not even in their teens yet.
Our ground-breaking drugs market profile found that there are 34,000 users of illegal drugs in Bedfordshire, almost one in 10 people aged 16 to 59.
Drug users in the county are spending around £59 million on cannabis every year. Fuelled by this demand, cannabis production has become a huge issue.
We are making great strides to tackle it, and last week our force discovered its 100th cannabis factory since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March – more than a 50 per cent increase on the same time last year.
I want to make it clear that those buying cannabis are directly funding these organised crime gangs. I cannot be clearer about what this means.
Most firearms discharges in Bedfordshire are linked to the drugs trade, as are many stabbings.
Much of the burglary and anti-social behaviour we deal with is also linked to drugs, without mentioning the exploitation and trafficking of people I have already mentioned.
Whilst as a force we continue to work towards disrupting the criminal networks involved in drug dealing, it is important for us to work in partnership with our public health colleagues to share the help and resources available for those in need.
Cannabis use does not come without health risks. If you use cannabis regularly, it can make you demotivated and uninterested in other things going on in your life, such as education or work.
Research shows that 10 per cent of regular cannabis users become dependent on it. Regular cannabis use also increases your risk of developing a psychotic illness, such as schizophrenia.
The NHS website contains more definitive information.
In Luton in October, there were 67 referrals to drug and alcohol services compared to 65 in April, and in Central Bedfordshire there were 212 referrals, compared to 184 in April.
As we work together to raise awareness, it is great to see that in Luton in October, 52 per cent of these were self-referrals, from either walk ins, calls or website visits. In Central Bedfordshire, there was an increase of referrals from professionals such as primary care, mental health services and adult social care.
This work alongside our partners in Bedfordshire is really important to tackle the illegal drugs market.
Our drugs market profile had input and buy-in from other agencies, while we are continuing to work together to tackle dealers and help those with addiction issue.
I am also really happy to be leading on a similar strategy for the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit, putting Bedfordshire at the heart of driving this work across the region.
Some of the below signs could be a signal that someone is taking drugs:
- Sudden changes in mood and behaviour (erratic, irritable, moody, hyperactivity, restlessness, etc.)
- Deterioration in personal appearance, health, and hygiene
- Easily or constantly fatigued
- Secretiveness and depression
- Increased absenteeism from work or school
- Loss of appetite
- Stealing money or goods
- Excessive spending or borrowing money
- Deterioration of long term friendships and relationships
If you or someone you know would like advice about drugs, visit our website.
The adult drug and alcohol treatment service Path 2 Recovery is a one-stop service providing advice, support, and treatment to adults living in Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire whose lives are affected by alcohol or drug use.
An online referral can be accessed online, and by clicking on the tab ‘Get Started’.
The young people’s drug and alcohol service Aquarius provides support to anyone under 18 in Bedford Borough and Central Bedfordshire who is affected by substance misuse. Many of the children and young people who are supported by Aquarius are also facing other challenges, such as school exclusion, homelessness, mental health, unemployment, or experience of the care system.
If you are concerned about reports of drug dealing in your area, or if you think someone may be being exploited, you can tell us online.
Detective Superintendent Duncan Young