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British Medical Journal calls for legalisation, regulation and taxation of illicit drugs

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The British Medical Journal (BMJ), one of the most highly-respected peer-reviewed research publications in the world, has joined a growing number of experts and campaigners calling for the legalisation, regulation and taxation of illicit drugs.

Noting that the war on drugs costs every taxpayer in the UK £400 ($540) in an article for the Journal, BMJ editor-in-chief Fiona Godlee observes that the global trade in illicit substances is worth £236 billion, and that this money fuels organised crime and human misery.

Godlee tells readers that while Britain is the largest exporter of legal cannabis in the world, users who take for the drug for recreational or medicinal purposes in the UK are needlessly criminalised.

She notes that huge sums of money are spent on prosecuting drug users in Britain, where illegal substances are increasingly sold by vulnerable young people from marginalised sections of society who are exploited by ruthless “county lines” drugs gangs.

“This is not about whether you think drugs are good or bad. It is an evidence based position entirely in line with the public health approach to violent crime,” she writes.

“The BMJ is firmly behind efforts to legalise, regulate, and tax the sale of drugs for recreational and medicinal use. This is an issue on which doctors can and should make their voices heard.”

Godlee’s intervention came after a senior British police officer argued in March that the war on drugs had failed, and that cannabis should be sold in shops in a similar fashion to alcohol.

Speaking after he urged MPs at Westminster to legalise drugs, North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones said: “A lot of the problems around drugs are caused by prohibition and strong enforcement.

“It just doesn’t work. I think prohibition kills a lot of people unnecessarily and if we did regulate, we could divert police resources towards harmful behaviours like child sexual exploitation, domestic abuse and modern slavery.

“Prosecution for minor possession of drugs is a waste of time.”

In December last year, lawmakers in Norway voted to decriminalise all drug use in a move designed to provide users with treatment rather than punishment.

Under plans that received cross-party support from Norwegian MPs, representatives from the country’s Conservative (Hoyre), Liberal (Venstre), Labour (Ap) and Socialist Left (SV) parties agreed to make the nation the first in Scandinavia to approve such a move.

Portugal’s decision to decriminalise the use of all drugs in 2001 has widely been seen as a success, despite initial concerns that removing legal punishment for the possession of narcotics might lead to an explosion in drug use.

The country is beginning to see the positive effects of its programme of decriminalisation, with evidence emerging of a slow downward trend in the amount of harm caused by drugs across the nation.

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Transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia to exploit weak regional governance, UN study warns

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transnational crime syndicates flood Southeast Asia

A new report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has cautioned that organised crime networks operating in Southeast Asia are generating record and even dangerous levels profit.

In a study titled Transnational Organised Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution, Growth and Impact,  the agency warns that recent law enforcement activity in the region and its surrounding areas has resulted in illicit groups altering their trafficking routes while transferring and scaling up their activities in locations with poor governance, partially around border areas.

Synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine have become the most valuable illicit market for crime syndicates active in the Southeast Asia region, partly on account of law enforcement action in China forcing narcotics producers to look for new production bases.

According to the report, transnational organised crime networks operating in Burma in cooperation with militias and ethnic armed groups are manufacturing and trafficking both crystalline and tablet methamphetamine.

The study also reveals that the region has become a hub for the global trade in counterfeit consumer goods and illicit pharmaceuticals, noting that Southeast Asia is a key transit point for illicit tobacco products and bogus medicines.

Elsewhere, the report reveals motorcycle gangs from Australia are relocating to the region in order to set up new chapters involved in drug trafficking, extortion, money laundering and other crimes.

The Australian gangs are said to have moved into the region to set up bases for their methamphetamine and drug precursor chemical operations after coming under increased pressure from police back in their home country.

UNODC concludes that the growing power and influence of organised crime in Southeast Asia is allowing illicit syndicates to use their financial muscle to further corrupt and undermine the rule of law, and that these groups now represent a primary threat to the public security, health and sustainable development of the region.

Speaking as the report was unveiled, UNODC Regional Representative Jeremy Douglas commented: “Organised crime groups are generating tens of billions of dollars in Southeast Asia from the cross-border trafficking and smuggling of illegal drugs and precursors, people, wildlife, timber and counterfeit goods.

“Profits have expanded and illicit money is increasingly moving through the regional casino industry and other large cash flow businesses.

“Southeast Asia has an organised crime problem, and it is time to coalesce around solutions to address the conditions that have allowed illicit businesses to grow, and to secure and cooperate along borders.”

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Colombian man caught with half kilo of cocaine under wig at Barcelona airport

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Police working at Barcelona’s El Prat international airport have arrested a man who was found to have half a kilo of cocaine concealed beneath an ill-fitting hairpiece.

Officers spotted the man after he arrived on a flight from the Colombian capital of Bogota.

They noticed that he was acting in a nervous manner and appeared to be sporting a disproportionately large hairpiece under a hat.

After taking him to one side for a search, investigators discovered a package of white powder that had been stuck to the man’s head underneath the outsized toupee.

The 65-year-old was arrested immediately, and was later charged after tests confirmed that the white powder was cocaine that was estimated to be worth €30,000 ($33,390).

In one photograph released by Spain’s national police force, the man can be seen from the side wearing a wig that protrudes to an unnatural height over the top of his head.

Another shot taken from the front shows the package of cocaine clearly visible beneath the hairpiece.

In a statement cited by the Reuters news agency, Spanish police said: “There is no limit to the inventiveness of drug traffickers trying to mock controls.”

Spain, which is one of the main entry points for cocaine exported into Europe from Colombia, has seen several novel large-scale smuggling attempts over the course of the past year, the majority of which appeared to have benefitted from better planning than the wig conspiracy.

Back in June, Spanish police revealed they had arrested 11 suspected traffickers after discovering a tonne of cocaine hidden inside fake stones shipped into the country from South America.

Investigators released a video that showed officers smashing open the bogus stones to discover 785 packages of cocaine, each of which was estimated to contain more than 1kg of the drug.

Just weeks earlier, police in the country announced they had smashed a South American organised trafficking network that injected large quantities of cocaine into plastic pellets before smuggling them to three specialist laboratories in Madrid and Toledo, where the drugs would be extracted by experts who had been flown in from Colombia.

Last August, Spanish investigators intercepted 67kgs of cocaine that had been concealed inside pineapple skins.

The gang behind the plot had hollowed out fresh pineapples before filling their skins with cylinders containing as much as 7kgs of cocaine each.

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Wildlife trade NGO TRAFFIC holds two-day workshop intended to improve animal crime conviction rates across India

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Wildlife trade NGO TRAFFIC holds two-day workshop

Illicit animal trade monitoring network TRAFFIC has helped organise a two-day conference in India intended to help local law enforcement officials improve wildlife crime conviction rates.

Held in cooperation with WWF-India, the Maharashtra Judiciary Academy and the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (Life), the event was designed to improve the knowledge of police officers responsible for wildlife crime in Maharashtra, Goa and Daman.

Dr Saket Badola, Head of TRAFFIC’s India office, said: “For any law in force, it is often not only the level of punishment but the surety of timely conviction, which act as crime deterrents.

“Proper orientation of judicial officers will ensure better implementation of wildlife, forest and environmental laws and help in controlling the crime.”

Commenting on efforts to crack down on wildlife crime in his region, Justice BP Dharmadhikari, Director of the Maharashtra Judicial Academy, said: “Over a period of time, Maharashtra has taken steps and passed several resolutions in the prevailing legal systems to protect and better manage the environment and forests.

“Most of the judges present may be dealing with such cases—therefore this orientation programme is very apt, timely and necessary.”

It was revealed earlier this month that a global crackdown on wildlife crime coordinated by Interpol and the World Customs Organisation (WCO) resulted in law enforcement officials in India making several seizures.

As part of the operation, Indian investigators discovered an infant langur that had been smuggled into the country from Bangladesh.

Elsewhere, the Indian Wildlife Crime Control Bureau seized a lesser flamingo from a pet shop, as well as live parakeets and munias during road checkpoint inspections.

The bureau was also involved in the discovery a smuggled lion cub that had been brought into the country from Bangladesh, and was scheduled for onward trafficking to the UK.

Back in February of this year, border inspectors working at India’s Chennai Airport in the state of Tamil Nadu stopped a man who was attempting to smuggle a weeks-old leopard cub into the country concealed inside his suitcase.

The man, who had arrived on a flight from Bangkok, was stopped when customs officials observed him behaving strangely while attempting to leave the terminal building, and then heard faint whimpering emanating from his luggage.

Indian and Burmese officials last year agreed at a bilateral summit to work more closely together to fight wildlife smuggling and drug trafficking on the border between the two countries.

In a statement issued last October, officials said: “It was… agreed to cooperate in preventing smuggling of wildlife and narcotic drugs and to strengthen cooperation on the international border management.”

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