LONDON — If there’s one thing that criminals usually prize when seeking a base for their activities, it’s privacy.
That would usually mean the hustle and bustle of London’s financial district would make it an unlikely choice for a giant drugmaking factory.
But with streets in England largely empty because of the latest coronavirus lockdown, that is exactly what the police found this past week. Officers, responding to reports of a strong smell discovered 826 cannabis plants in the basement of a deserted commercial building not far from the Bank of England.
According to the City of London Police, it was the first “cannabis factory” ever found in the financial district. It was “no doubt being set up in response to fewer people being out and about during the pandemic who might have noticed any unusual activity,” said Andy Spooner, the acting detective inspector leading the investigation, in a statement released on Wednesday.
The City of London has emptied as the British government tries to tamp down a surge in coronavirus cases, instructing employees to work from home to curb transmission. The area is normally teeming with people, particularly on weekdays, with the London Stock Exchange and the corporate headquarters of major financial groups, as well as the Bank of England, all tightly clustered in the zone, also known as the Square Mile.
Photographs released by police of the cannabis factory showed a seemingly complex operation with wired lighting and ventilation tubes.
A spokeswoman for the City of London said that the force policing the district usually dealt with economic crimes such as fraud and noted that a drug bust was uncommon.
The police said that two people had been arrested in the continuing investigation.
It is illegal to grow, sell, or use cannabis for recreational purposes in Britain. The supply or possession of the drug can lead to up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both.
Pro-cannabis groups and some patients have lobbied for the medical properties of the drug to be recognized, and, since 2018, doctors have been allowed to legally issue prescriptions for marijuana. The use of cannabis-based medicine was approved for use by the National Health Service in England and Wales in 2019.
A United Nations commission voted in December to reclassify marijuana for medical purposes as a less dangerous drug, a highly anticipated and long-delayed decision that many said could clear the way for an expansion of marijuana research and medical use.