A hemp crop has been vandalised after a group of Facebook users thought they had stumbled across a field of wild-growing cannabis.
The location of the crop in Sussex was posted on the social media site last weekend.
People quickly started to descend on the field from as far away as the West Country in the mistaken belief that they had access to the narcotic-laced cannabis plant.
But the hemp was being grown legally under Home Office licence for a wide range of industrial and medicinal uses and contains no psychoactive ingredients.
About 5% (£8,000 worth) of the crop was destroyed before grower Nathaniel Loxley of the Hop and Hemp Trading Company alerted Sussex Police.
Officers arrived at the farm near Angmering to find the area strewn with leaves and cigarette papers where attempts had been made to smoke parts of the plant.
There were also two sacks stuffed with hemp and the police made three arrests on Tuesday (21 July).
The three arrests were all men. Two were from West Sussex – a 30-year-old from Littlehampton, an 18-year-old from Angmering and the third was a 47-year-old from Ilchester, Somerset.
All the arrests were on suspicion of theft of a quantity of industrial hemp which is being grown lawfully under licence in the field, a police spokesman confirmed.
Mr Loxley told the West Sussex County Times: “This is industrial hemp with no psychoactive content.
“You can make biofuel and composites from it and the seed is grown to process into oil for medicines and cosmetics.
He added: “It’s an incredible crop and I’d like to be part of the movement to make people more aware of the benefits of it.”
The farmland is owned by John Longhurst and Keith Langmead who said the 4ha field was planted with the Nitrogen-fixing crop in March this year.
Mr Langmead confirmed that about 5% of the crop had been taken since the post appeared on Facebook.
“It was growing quite nicely and we weren’t having any trouble.
“We didn’t have any trouble until the weekend when somebody put it on Facebook,” he said.
“We are getting 15-20 kids a day coming in but they can smoke it all they like, they won’t get high.
“It’s very frustrating because they are destroying the crops which are worth £6,000-£8,000.”