Despite progress in cannabis legislation, weed remains forbidden in many countries. As a result, hundreds of tons of cannabis are seized every year. In France, about 50 tons are confiscated each year, while in the United Kingdom, the police seize about 20 tons annually and in Spain, the authorities recover several hundred tons of marijuana each year. In addition, there are seizures of other drugs such as cocaine, heroin and many others, which are seized in far smaller quantities than cannabis.
What do the judicial services do with the seized cannabis? They usually keep a sample of the cannabis until the trial takes place and destroy the rest. This means that hundreds of tons of cannabis ends up in the incinerator every year worldwide.
How are drugs seized by the police stored?
As soon as the police seize a drug, whatever its nature (cannabis, cocaine, MDMA, etc.), they place it under seal. This is because it is evidence that must be preserved in its original state, inventoried and recorded, to be used in a future trial. The first step is therefore to collect a sample and have it analysed to determine its exact nature and, if possible, its origin. These samples are kept by the police for the duration of the investigation and then by the court registry pending trial.
As for the rest of the confiscated drugs, they cannot be kept indefinitely because of the risk of theft or the health problems (mould and other) that such storage would cause. They are therefore usually destroyed. However, there may be some time between seizure and destruction, as the order must be given by the magistrate and the destruction must be organised under very specific security conditions.
In practice, confiscated drugs are usually placed in safes or vaults in police stations or courts, to which only a few people have access in order to prevent theft and ensure controls. Under these conditions, the security of the sealed drugs is assured and theft is particularly rare. However, theft can happen. For example, in 2014, 52 kilos of cocaine seized by the French police were stolen from the vault at the headquarters of the judicial police of the Paris. However, this was an exceptional event.
How are seized drugs destroyed?
Sealed goods are only destroyed once a judge has given the order. The destruction takes place in approved incinerators. Details of these incinerators are kept relatively secret for obvious security reasons. Moreover, these destructions are always carried out in the presence of a judicial police officer. As you might imagine, these measures are not always sufficient. In 2018, a network of cannabis traffickers was dismantled close to Paris. They were recovering cannabis from seizures that were to be destroyed in the Saint-Ouen incinerator and then reselling it. They were obviously dependent on the complicity of a member of the incinerator’s staff.
So, what is known about the incinerators used to destroy the drugs seized by the police? The secrecy that surrounds them prevents us from knowing much. In Spain, for example, all that is known is that there are six of them (two in Andalusia, one in Levante, one in Catalonia, one in Madrid and one in Asturias, which for a long time was the only one in the country) and that they are often cement works or solid waste processing industries.
This is not surprising. It is not easy to destroy drugs and only certain companies have the technical means to engage in this business. For these reasons it is a pretty lucrative business. While the profits made by these companies are capped at €200,000 in Spain, this is not the case worldwide. In fact, in 2019, the DEA division in Houston, Texas, launched a tender to find a company capable of destroying 1,000 pounds of cannabis every hour. It is easy to imagine that the chosen company will pocket more than 200,000€.
The companies responsible for the incineration of drugs have to meet very strict standards. These are designed to ensure the destruction of all drugs and to avoid intoxicating fumes. The fumes generated by the combustion are burnt themselves so that in the end only water vapour escapes from the incinerator chimneys. In the past, drugs were simply burned in the open air. But this method is risky, as can be seen in the places where it is still used. In 2015, Indonesian police burned more than three tons of cannabis near the city of Tangerang, near Jakarta. The wind blew the smoke straight into the town, where residents complained of dizziness and discomfort.
If you are a grower and strive for maximum care of your plants, make sure you follow the relevant legislation. It would be frustrating to see your beautiful plants go up in smoke in an industrial incinerator rather than in a joint!