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The sooner other countries follow Canada’s lead and legalise cannabis, the better

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legalise cannabis

Canada last week became the second country in the world to legalise recreational use of marijuana. After the Cannabis Act cleared its final legislative hurdle in the Canadian Senate last Tuesday, marijuana enthusiasts across the country can now look forward to buying their drug of choice legally from as early as this September. While Uruguay is the only other nation to have made the move to date, many campaigners hope the Canadian government’s decision to legalise the drug may serve as a tipping point in the global debate over its safety, and the wisdom of continuing to outlaw its sale and use. Welcoming the decision on Twitter after the vote, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wisely pointed out that prohibition had made it far “too easy for our kids to get [illicit] marijuana – and for criminals to reap the profits”. Fortunately, this is a position that is becoming increasingly popular among senior politicians, drug experts and law enforcement officials in many countries where it remains illegal to sell or use cannabis.

Indeed, while Canada and Uruguay remain the only two countries to have fully legalised cannabis, many other nations are reacting to changing social attitudes towards the drug by altering the way in which they deal with users. Eight US states have legalised the recreational use of marijuana, while possession of the drug for personal use has been effectively decriminalised in Portugal, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. In Norway, the country’s Parliament last year passed a bill that will decriminalise cannabis and a range of other substances for personal use. Other countries, including the UK and France, have taken a less progressive position on cannabis, despite senior lawmakers such as former leader of Britain’s Conservative Party William Hague declaring the war on the drug “irreversibly lost”. While few would have predicted a decade ago that the US would be leading the way on cannabis legalisation, Canada’s recent decision to allow the drug to be sold legally must surely now persuade other governments to accept that all the evidence suggests this is the only sensible way forward.

As Trudeau pointed out after the Canadian Senate passed the Cannabis Act last week, prohibition has totally failed to limit the availability of marijuana. This is true across the whole of the Western world. All it has done is create a multi-billion dollar business that is controlled by organised criminals, the majority of whom have no qualms about cutting the products they sell with all manner harmful substances. Drug traffickers have been known to bulk out herbal cannabis with crushed glass, sand and laundry detergent, and resin with beeswax, boot polish and glue. Much of the illicit marijuana sold in countries such as the US and the UK is now grown in domestic cannabis factories, and is much stronger than the strains users would have been familiar with 20 years ago, when supplies of the drug were more commonly imported. Legalisation would allow governments to regulate the supply of cannabis, making it less harmful to users, and standardising its strength, allowing those who choose to take it more control over what they put into their bodies.

It is often argued that cannabis has been proven to induce psychotic illness in individuals who might be prone to this type of condition. While it may be the case that evidence suggests marijuana use can induce psychotic symptoms and increase the chances of users developing a psychotic illness, this should not be used as a barrier to legalisation. Much in the same way that alcohol is not outlawed on the basis that some people who drink are more prone to becoming alcoholics, the possible negative reaction that a small number of people might experience when taking the drug should not trump the wider benefits that legalisation would bring. In any case, the legalisation of milder forms of cannabis might actually prevent people with a propensity to develop a psychotic illness from coming across more potent strains of the drug, which are more likely to trigger a psychotic episode. Furthermore, a small portion of the huge amount of tax revenue that would be raised by the legal sale of cannabis could be used to launch a public awareness campaign about the dangers of using cannabis for those who might be prone to developing a psychotic illness.

The argument that cannabis can act as a gateway drug to more damaging substances should also not be used as an argument against legalisation. The primary reason cannabis use might lead to the consumption of harder drugs is the fact that those who wish to take it in countries in which it is outlawed are forced to mix with criminals who routinely sell other, more damaging substances. If anything, legalisation would make it less likely that cannabis users would mix with the type of people who might offer them something harder. Again, some of the revenue raised from the sale of legal marijuana could be used to fund education programmes about addiction, and treatment for the small number of people who might experience problems with their own cannabis use.

On balance, the argument for the legalisation of cannabis is beyond compelling. While making harder drugs more accessible should be approached with considerably more caution, the reduction in user harm and crime associated with the prohibition of cannabis should make the legalisation, regulation and taxation of the substance a no-brainer. Countries with enough courage to follow Canada’s lead will almost instantaneously free up valuable law enforcement resources that could be used to much better ends elsewhere, and generate valuable tax revenue that could be spent on health and education. The majority of right-thinking people accept that it is only a matter of time before cannabis is made legal in most Western democracies. A great deal of harm could be prevented and a great deal of good done if more governments abandoned their failed policies of prohibition sooner rather than later.

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European police agencies seize 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides in latest edition of Operation Silver Axe

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550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides

The latest instalment of a Europol-coordinated operation targeting agricultural fraudsters has resulted in the seizure of 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides across Europe and the arrest of three individuals.

Now in its fourth year, Operation Silver Axe, which is supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and involves law enforcement agencies in nearly 30 countries, saw investigators in search of fake pesticides carry out inspections at major seaports, airports and land borders.

Law enforcement officials in 29 participating nations also searched production and repackaging facilities looking for pesticide products that had not been tested to make sure they pose no risk to the environment or the health and safety of users, consumers and members of the public.

First launched in 2012, Operation Silver Axe is also intended to target the sale of counterfeit pesticides that infringe intellectual property rights such as trademarks, patents and copyright.

The bogus pesticides seized during this year’s operation would have been enough to spray 49,000km2 (30,447m2), an area the equivalent to the whole of Estonia.

Ahead of this year’s operation, OLAF provided participating nations with intelligence on 120 suspicious shipments of pesticides transported into member states.

Last year’s operation, which took place across 27 countries, saw investigators confiscate some 360 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides.

Since its inception seven years ago, Operation Silver Axe has resulted in 1,222 tonnes of illegal and fake counterfeit products being removed from circulation.

In a statement, Hans Mattaar, Technical Director of the European Crop Care Association (ECCA) said: “Every new Silver Axe operation shows how improving cooperation between law enforcement agencies leads to more efficiency in the fight against illegal pesticides.

“ECCA is pleased to see the result of Silver Axe IV, but at the same time concerned about the ongoing illegal business.

“We look forward to continuing our contribution to Europol in broadening the scope of Silver Axe.

“To increasing the pressure is the only way to discourage to discourage the criminal organisations behind this illegal trade.”

According to the European Crop Protection Association, the illicit global trade in counterfeit pesticides is growing at a swift rate, with increasing amounts of bogus agricultural products being sold to farmers across the globe by organised criminal networks.

The agency warns that fake pesticide products could be made from chemicals that are banned or restricted, and may lead to the total loss of treated crops, potentially compromising the livelihood of farmers.

It is estimated that counterfeit pesticides make up some 15% of the global $60 billion crop protection market.

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Criminal money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons, UK fraud prevention agency finds

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money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons

A new report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas has revealed that criminals ae increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons in a bid to persuade them to act as money mules.

In the latest edition of its annual Fraudscape study, Cifas said that it received more than 40,000 cases which “bore the hallmarks” of money mule activity in 2018, which was up 26% compared to the previous year.

While a rise in money mule activity was recorded across all age groups, the largest increase (35%) was seen among those aged between 41 and 60 last year.

Money mules agree to allow their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities, and are typically offered a cut of the money they move as a commission, or high-value items such as expensive trainers in return.

Recruiters typically target potential mules online via social media platforms, historically seeking out young male victims who might be in financial difficulty, such as the unemployed or students.

While Cifas’ latest report shows that young people under the age of 30 are still by far the primary target of money mule recruiters, last year saw a marked rise in the number of older people becoming involved in the crime, albeit from a very low starting point.

More widely, the report reveals that Cifas members recorded almost 324,000 cases of fraud last year, which was up 6% on 2017.

Commenting on the contents of the study, Cifas CEO Mike Haley said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.

“From identity theft through to using the young and naïve as money mules to launder money, the economic and social harm to the nation is growing.

“The only way to fight the threat is to combine communication and collaboration, working together to present a united front against the perpetrators.”

Acting as a money mule might seem like an easy way to make some quick cash, but those caught allowing their accounts to be used for the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activities can face stiff penalties, and will rarely be able to plead ignorance if they are caught.

Back in April of this year, police in Ireland warned students thinking of acting as money mules that they could face as many as 14 years behind bars if they allowed their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder money.

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Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA

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wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine

Consumption of heroin and MDMA has risen to the highest levels ever recorded in Australia by an annual study that measures the presence of illicit substances in the country’s wastewater.

The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), also showed that Australians now use twice as much methamphetamine as any other illicit drug.

According to the study, Australia ranks second for methamphetamine and MDMA use among 25 countries that produce comparable stimulant data, but has relatively low comparative cocaine consumption.

The study revealed that while the consumption of nicotine and alcohol fell across the country in the 12 months to December last year, use of methamphetamine continued to outstrip the consumption of all other illicit drug types and pharmaceuticals.

The report estimates that Australia’s annual consumption of methamphetamine has reached nearly 10 tonnes, which compares to just over four tonnes of cocaine, and 750kgs of heroin.

Australian drug users are thought to favour synthetic narcotics on account of the cost and expense of shipping substances such as heroin and cocaine into the country from the regions in which they are grown.

The study also found that while use of synthetic opioid fentanyl plateaued in the final six months of 2018, oxycodone consumption rose over the same period.

On a regional basis, South and Western Australia were found to have the highest average use of methamphetamine, while Victoria had the highest rate of heroin consumption, and New South Wales the top level of cocaine use.

Unveiling the latest edition of the report, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said: “The Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses.

“We are only now starting to realise the full benefits of the ongoing programme.”

The study found that average heroin consumption decreased in both capital city and regional areas, while average cannabis consumption increased in both city and regional sites.

The ACIC noted that the report covered 54% of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.6 million people, and that 50 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the December 2018 collection, monitoring the consumption of 13 substances.

Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced that it had seized 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, which was said to have been the largest shipment of the drug ever discovered in the country.

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