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LBC join police on raid of vape shop selling 'over-the-counter' cannabis

20 August 2020, 13:14

A large operation took place to tackle the illegal sale of cannabis in vape shops
A large operation took place to tackle the illegal sale of cannabis in vape shops. Picture: LBC News
Ewan Quayle

By Ewan Quayle

Officers have made several arrests after carrying out warrants at vape shops in south London that are suspected of illegally selling cannabis.

Three warrants were executed at Cannabidiol (CBD) shops in High Street, Croydon, Beulah Hill in West Norwood and High Street, in Thornton Heath, this morning, Wednesday, 19 August.

Four people aged between 37 and 64 were arrested on suspicion of the supply and importation of cannabis, as well as possession with intent to supply psychoactive substances.

Officers recovered items including around £20,000 in cash, a large amount of cannabis, 63,000 nitrous oxide canisters, suspected class A ‘magic’ mushrooms and drug paraphernalia.

A Bitcoin ATM machine was also found in one of the shops - which are sometimes used as a method to launder money.

Police Constable Ross Bennett, the investigating officer from the South Area Basic Command Unit, said: “Today’s warrants have resulted in a large quantity of illegal drugs being taken off the streets of London as well as cash believed to have been gained through nefarious means.

“Drugs blight communities and ruin lives, and the Met remains committed to robustly tackling those who peddle drugs, as we have done today.

Officers also searched residential properties linked to those arrested and recovered cash and evidence relating to the importation and sale of cannabis.

Police arrested a 52-year-old man at an address in Guildford, Surrey, on suspicion of being concerned in the supply and import of cannabis.

During the vape shop raids, officers – supported by the Territorial Support Group – also searched a residential address in Freemasons Road, Croydon.

There, a 38-year-old man was also arrested on suspicion concerned in the supply of supply and importation of cannabis.

Officers searched his house and seized evidence to suggest the supply and importation of cannabis and money laundering offences.

They have all been taken to a south London police station where they remain in custody.

The warrants form part of an operation that was established after officers received intelligence that habitual cannabis users in the Croydon area were buying the class B drug from legal CBD shops.

When these users were stopped by officers and found in possession of cannabis, they stated it was legal as they had bought it from a CBD shop.

PC Bennett said: “Unless you are a specifically licensed pharmacy, you cannot legally sell or supply cannabis or THC products – no matter what percentage content it has.

"Likewise, it is also not a defence to tell officers that you thought your cannabis was legal because you bought it from a CBD shop – it is a class B drug and you will be dealt with in accordingly."

A large amount of cannabis was seized from the vape shops
A large amount of cannabis was seized from the vape shops. Picture: Metropolitan Police

He added: “The evidence gathered during these warrants suggest that these shops are part of a larger organised crime network and are also being used for money laundering purposes.

"There is a perception that organised crime doesn’t impact the general public, when in reality it’s the origin of many crime types which fuel violence across London.

"This is why we are continuing to target and dismantle organised crime networks by carrying out operations such as the one in Croydon today."

Cannabis contains both CBD, the medicinal element, and Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the part that has the psychoactive effects and gives the high - making the substance illegal.

Enquiries revealed that some CBD shops had been trying to exploit a loophole, where it is ‘legal’ to sell a Home Office approved product, which contains up to 0.2% THC.

THC is a controlled Class B drug under the Misuse of Drug Regulations 2001 - whether as a single drug, or as found within herbal cannabis or cannabis resin.

However, the law states that 0.2% THC can only be imported for medicinal purposes and can only be supplied by a specifically licensed pharmacy to someone with a prescription.

The samples were sent off for testing and all of them came back as having more than 0.2% THC, making them illegal in any case. Some of the products even stated 0.5% THC on the packaging.

All the products seized during the warrants will also be sent off for testing.