LONDON — The normal bustle of London’s financial district has been quieted by the latest national lockdown, with businesses shuttered and work shifted to home.
But the sudden lull and the unexpected vacating of prime real estate has seen at least one venture (albeit an illegal one) thrive: an indoor weed farm.
That ended this past week when police officers discovered the criminal operation, which they called a “cannabis factory,” in a basement equipped with wired lighting and ventilation tubes in a commercial building not far from the Bank of England.
Responding to reports of a strong smell, officers discovered 826 cannabis plants — the first such factory ever found in the financial district, according to the City of London Police. 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, as the financial district is called, 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. The London Stock Exchange and the corporate headquarters of major financial groups, as well as the Bank of England, are all tightly clustered in the zone, also known as the Square Mile.
A spokeswoman for the City of London said the force policing the district usually dealt with economic crimes such as fraud. A drug bust was uncommon, she noted.
The police said 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.