Many experts believe that some drugs which are currently illegal in most countries are on balance far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco. Whether or not substances such as ecstasy, cannabis or LSD are safer than vices most western nations have deemed permissible is open to debate, but it is hard to argue against the fact that a great deal of the harm caused by illicit narcotics comes about as a result of the unregulated nature of the criminal markets on which they are sold. As has been the case for generations, drug users can never be truly sure what is in the substances they buy, regardless of how well they know and trust their supplier. While this has always been the case, the problem has been brought into sharp focus over recent years as drug producers have sought to outdo their rivals by making their products more potent than anything else on the market.
Illegal drugs have historically been cut with all manner of unpleasant ingredients, but evidence now suggests criminal gangs are seeking to set their products apart by making them as strong as possible, be that by adding greater quantities of MDMA to ecstasy tablets, or cutting batches of heroin with deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl. Meanwhile, less scrupulous drug producers continue to pass off products that bear little resemblance to what they claim they are, such as ecstasy pills that contain pentylone instead of MDMA. Caring little for the welfare of the people who end up taking the drugs they make, the criminal gangs behind the illicit narcotics trade have one motive; to make as much money as possible. As such, and in light of the fact that the legalisation of most outlawed drugs looks to be a very long way off in most countries, lawmakers and others should focus their energies on harm reduction.
One of the best ways of keeping drug users safe from harm is to empower them with the means to discover what is really in the substances they are planning to consume, and how strong they might be. This is what makes drug-testing stations at music festivals and nightclubs such a good idea. A number of major festivals, such as Groovin the Moo in Australia and Bestival in the UK, have adopted the concept, allowing drug testers onto their sites to anonymously analyse the composition of narcotics festival-goers are planning to take. Users can then make an informed decision as to whether they should consume their drugs or not. Testing carried out at a festival in the UK city of Bristol recently revealed ecstasy pills that were up to four times stronger than regular tablets. At the very least, arming drug users with information such as this gives them the opportunity to take smaller doses.
Despite the potential for drug-testing facilities at festivals to save lives, some are less than enthusiastic about the idea. Festival Republic surprised campaigners this month by announcing that it will not be allowing drug testers on site at its UK events this year, despite having applied to the British government for a licence that would have allowed it to do so. It has been speculated that the company’s licence application was most likely turned down, prompting it to make a business decision not to go ahead with testing. Doing so could leave it open to prosecution should any harm come to drug users who had their illegal substances tested. Other festival organisers in the UK that choose to go ahead with allowing drug-testing facilities at their events do so without a licence from authorities. The British government’s current position is that “no illegal drug can be assumed to be safe and there is no safe way to take them”. Commenting on the drug-testing service offered at Australia’s Groovin the Moo festival this year, the country’s Shadow Attorney General Jeremy Hanson claimed the decision to allow it to go ahead would encourage drug use.
It has become clear over the years that a zero-tolerance approach to drug use at nightclubs and music festivals simply does not work. If young people want to take drugs, they will more often than not find a way in which to do so. It is for this reason that allowing drug-testing facilities at festivals should be a no-brainer, particularly in the absence of sensible drug policies that would take the production of narcotics out of the hands of criminals who care little as to whether the end consumer of their products live or die. Only last month, two young people lost their lives after taking “dangerous high-strength or bad-batch” ecstasy pills at Portsmouth’s Mutiny Festival. If they had been able to have the tablets they were about to take tested, there is a chance they might still be alive today. Event organisers should not have to put themselves at risk of prosecution by allowing drug-testing facilities on site without the approval of the authorities. All the while legislators refuse to implement drug policies that could greatly reduce the harm caused by narcotics, the least they should do is sanction the use of drug-testing facilities at festivals and nightclubs that really could save lives.
Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
Law enforcement agencies across Europe took part in a coordinated crackdown on child trafficking at the beginning of last month, Europol revealed earlier today.
During the first week of July, police across 22 member states took part in an EMPACT trafficking in human beings campaign that resulted in the identification of 51 children and 72 adults who police suspected could be potential victims of exploitation.
The children, the youngest of which was aged just two, were exploited for the purposes of labour, forced begging, and sexual services, Europe’s law enforcement agency said.
The operation also resulted in the discovery of criminals with links to migrant smuggling and the fake document trade, triggering the investigation of 45 new cases.
In total, the crackdown resulted in the detention of 24 suspects who were questioned over their alleged links to the human trafficking trade, and a further 61 suspects who were detained in relation to other crimes.
“The actions focused mainly on hotspots for sexual exploitation, forced begging and forced criminality (e.g. pickpocketing and minor thefts), and intensified activities at border crossing points,” Europol said in a statement.
“As the identification of victims of trafficking in human beings remains very challenging, particularly the identification of child victims, many participating countries also undertook prevention and awareness raising activities.”
News of the success of the operation comes after UK officials last week warned that people smugglers and human traffickers are using Facebook to attract potential victims.
Speaking with the Evening Standard last week, National Crime Agency (NCA) Deputy Director Tom Dowdall said migrant deaths in the Mediterranean remain high and that victims were too often being recruited via the social network.
The NCA said it had found more than 800 Facebook pages that were linked to organised crime gangs involved in the trafficking of migrants into and across Europe.
In comments made separately to the Reuters news agency, Organised Immigration Crime Taskforce boss Chris Hogben warned that Facebook is failing to prevent people smugglers from luring victims through its platforms.
“More often than not, these adverts are quite reassuring, they create an illusion this is very much normal travel, it’s safe, it’s easy,” he said.
“Tragically, when you look at quite a few of these adverts they might be advertising big luxury yachts or ships. When the migrants turn up to get transported they find they are being packed onto a rib or a small boat without safety jackets.”
Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has said the country’s subsidised fuel prices should rise to international levels in a bid to prevent smugglers cheating the country out of billions of dollars.
Speaking during a televised address yesterday, Maduro said petrol must now be sold at an internationally-competitive price to stop smuggling gangs trafficking fuel out of the country to Colombia and the Caribbean.
As is the case with many oil-producing nations, Venezuela has offered its citizens heavily-subsidised petrol for decades, but its fuel prices have remained nearly flat for years despite hyperinflation.
This means the country’s drivers can now fill up the tank of a small SUV nearly 9,000 times over for the price of a cup of coffee.
Put another way, filling up a tank of fuel in Venezuela currently costs the equivalent of less than one US cent.
This offers smugglers massive profits in exchange for smuggling fuel out of Venezuela to be sold at market value in neighbouring countries, so much so that the trade in illicit fuel has become more lucrative than drug smuggling.
It is estimated the country’s crumbling economy loses as much as $18 billion a year to fuel smuggling, forcing the government to act as the nation’s production of oil, which is its largest export, continues to fall.
While Maduro has pledged that the Venezuelan government will continue to offer “direct subsidies” to citizens holding a state-issued identification card, many Venezuelans have refused to get the ID cards, alleging they are used by officials to keep tabs on them.
Maduro said: “Anyone who does not respond to the call for this census, who does not wish to participate in the direct subsidy, will have to pay for gasoline at the international rate.”
Responding to Maduro’s announcement on Twitter, Chief Economic Adviser to Allianz Mohamed El-Erian commented: “It will be interesting to see how the population in #Venezuela responds to today’s announcement by President #Maduro eliminating subsidies on #fuel. If implemented fully, this would entail a significant rise in prices … from the lowest in the world to international levels.”
Other observers suggested hiking fuel prices in Venezuela might risk pushing even higher the country’s sky-high inflation rate, which the International Monetary Fund predicts could reach one million percent.
“The collapse in economic activity, hyperinflation, and increasing deterioration in the provision of public goods as well as shortages of food at subsidized prices have resulted in large migration flows, which will lead to intensifying spill over effects on neighbouring countries,” Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department, wrote in a blog post.
Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
Five New York residents have been arrested after police disrupted a plot to traffic counterfeit Nike Air Jordan trainers estimated to be worth more than $70 million.
Officers from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) unit detained Miyuki Suen, Jian Min Huang, Songhua Qu, Kin Lui Chen and Fangrang Qu, before charging them with illegally importing the thousands of pairs of fake sports shoes from China into the US.
After the shoes arrived in the country, the suspects and their co-conspirators are said to have stuck bogus Nike-trademarked logos on them, before offering them for sale across the US.
Prior to charging the suspects, investigators examined nearly 27,000 pairs of trainers over an eight-month period.
Each member of the gang could face up to 20 years in jail if they are found guilty of counterfeit trafficking conspiracy and trafficking in counterfeit goods.
If the trainers had been genuine, they would have been worth $73 million if sold at retail value, according to the NYPD and HSI.
The bogus trainers are said to have looked nearly identical to the genuine article, but did not feature the genuine Nike Air Jordan trademarked logos.
In a statement, Angel Melendez, Special Agent in Charge for HSI New York. “These five individuals are alleged to have been a part of a large scale counterfeiting scheme, importing nearly a half million pairs of knock-off Nike sneakers.
“These counterfeiting networks can be both detrimental to our economy and threaten our national security, and HSI will continue to take every measure in investigating and dismantling these organisations.”
Manhattan Attorney Geoffrey Berman added: “The five defendants in this case allegedly counterfeited over $70 million in fake Nike shoes and sold them to buyers on the U.S. market.
“I commend our law enforcement partners for helping to bring today’s charges, which send a clear message to would-be counterfeiters: ‘Just don’t do it.’”
Nike Air Jordan trainers, which are named after retired basketball player Michael Jordan and typically sell for close to $200, have been widely counterfeited since they were introduced in the 1980s.
Back in January, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) discovered hundreds of pairs of Nike Air Jordan trainers in a shipment passing through Dulles International Airport in Virginia.
The 400 pairs of various versions of the trainers arrived at the airport on 15 December from China, and would have been worth nearly $55,000 if sold at the manufacturer’s recommended retail price.
- Britain’s Monkey Dust ‘epidemic’ will likely continue until the UK changes its regressive drugs laws
- Police across Europe arrest scores during child trafficking crackdown
- Venezuela to cut massive fuel subsidises to fight rampant gasoline smuggling
- Police in New York break up $70 million fake Nike Air Jordans trafficking conspiracy
- Spanish authorities arrest people smugglers who trafficked migrants into France
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
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