Today I read yet another news item about police raiding a cannabis factory where they seized x number of cannabis plants with an estimated street value of y. I have no idea how they decide the “street value” of a cannabis plant so I thought I should investigate. I did a Google search for police “cannabis plants” “street value” and went through the first 100 of about 11,400 results. I was looking for reports of cannabis factory raids in the UK where the police gave both the number of plants seized and the estimated street value, but I also included some cases where police gave total figures over a certain time period or for a particular operation. Unsurprisingly all the reports were of indoor growing, usually in rented houses. Sometimes the wording was in the form “more than 1,000 plants” – I discounted these reports for not giving a specific figure but that still left me with 47 data points. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so before you get bored here is a chart I made:
As you can see, the most commonly used figure seems to be around £300 per plant. The smallest reported seizure was of 20 plants at a house in Lincoln in August 2007 “with some up to seven feet tall”. Unusually there was an estimate of the quantity of cannabis which they would have produced (about 2.8kg) as well as the so called “street value” which was given as £7,000, or £350 per plant. Towards the other end of the scale, in February 2009 police in Halesowen raided two properties in Claremont Street, finding an estimated 1,350 plants which they valued at about half a million pounds, or £370 per plant. Despite the difference in scale between these raids the claimed value per plant was very similar, but that was not always the case.
In April 2008 the Macclesfield Express reported that police had discovered what was believed to be one of Britain’s largest ever cannabis factories, housing 8,000 plants worth about £500,000 – a bargain at only £62.50 per plant. On the other hand, an article in a glossy magazine called PROPERTYdrum listed a number of raids including one in Telford in June 2010 in which £200,000 worth of cannabis plants were discovered – with a haul of only 200 plants they were apparently worth a whopping £1,000 each. Finally, there was a very recent report on the website of the Avon and Somerset Constabulary which mentioned Operation Viscount, targeting cannabis factories across Avon and Somerset. During this three month operation they claim to have seized 7,100 cannabis plants with an approximate street value of £6.6 million, a hefty £930 per plant.
In reality this is complete nonsense. Young plants are almost worthless because the only people who would be interested are growers, and they get them essentially for free by taking cuttings from a mother plant. Even a mature plant is not going to be worth much unless it is ready to harvest and the grower would not obtain “street value” for the crop because it would be sold wholesale to a distributor. Furthermore, a lot of growers are presumably using the “sea of green” method which packs a large number of plants into a small space at the expense of a low yield per plant. In reality I would be surprised if seized plants were worth more than £30 on average.