Cannabis plants worth an estimated £400,000 have been seized from a workshop building in Co Down.
Detectives from the Organised Crime Branch said a total of 800 plants were recovered in the Millisle area along with a substantial amount of electrical equipment.
The cannabis factory was one of the most significant and comes following a PSNI ‘scratch and sniff’ card initiative to raise public awareness.
Detective Inspector Andy Dunlop said: “This was a substantial production operation, one of the largest ones we have uncovered in recent times.
“It was quite sophisticated in the way it had been set up, almost like a processing facility, with young plants, the remnants of a previous harvest, space for drying the product and space for waste products.
“No arrests were made this morning (Friday) but our enquiries will be continuing over the coming days. Today’s operation was partly due to information provided by the community as a result of our cannabis awareness campaign ‘scratch and sniff’ which we launched last September.”
Det Insp Dunlop added: “The objective was to raise public awareness so that more people report suspicious activity to police or, if they wish to remain anonymous, to contact Crimestoppers. It is delivering positive results but I would appeal to people to keep their eyes, ears and most definitely their noses, open.
“Police officers across Northern Ireland have been distributing ‘scratch and sniff’ cards to the public to educate and inform them about the signs to spot and detect cannabis factories by recognising the specific smell of growing cannabis. “The cards contain an element that replicates the smell of cannabis in its growing state which is a different smell to when it is being smoked.”
Det Insp Dunlop urged the public to continue to report their concerns about possible drug cultivation on the 101 non-emergency number or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Between April and August this year the PSNI arrested more than 1,000 people for drugs offences and removed almost £4 million worth of substances from the streets of Northern Ireland.
Over that same period almost 50 cannabis factories were detected and closed down.
In September, police launched the ‘scratch and sniff’ card initiative leading to several more criminal operations being closed down.
At the launch in Belfast’s City Hall, Deputy Chief Constable Drew Harris said: “We know that people may not realise that the empty, run-down house or flat on their street with people coming and going may actually be a cannabis factory.”
Mr Harris added: “It’s not just the stereotype of the remote rural dwelling or disused industrial unit.”