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

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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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Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’ jailed in Tanzania for heading up elephant tusk smuggling operation

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Chinese ‘Ivory Queen’

A Chinese woman dubbed the “Ivory Queen” has been jailed for 15 years in Tanzania after being convicted of smuggling hundreds of elephant tusks.

Yang Fenglan was found guilty of running one of the largest ivory smuggling operations ever discovered in Africa, and is said to have been responsible for the trafficking of tusks from as many as 400 elephants worth an estimated $2.5 million.

A court heard how the 69-year-old businesswoman had managed to pose as an upstanding member of the Chinese expatriate community in Tanzania for decades, while all the while overseeing a major smuggling operation that involved huge quantities of illicit ivory being trafficked between Africa and China.

Yang was yesterday found guilty of being behind the smuggling of 860 tusks between 2000 and 2014.

She is said to have used her connections with wealthy and powerful individuals she met while working as Secretary General of Tanzania’s China-Africa business council to facilitate the trafficking operation.

Sentencing Yang to 15 years behind bars for heading up an organised crime gang, a magistrate also ordered her to hand over a fine equal to twice the market value of the ivory she was convicted of smuggling or face another two years in prison.

According to court documents, Yang, who is reported to have worked as a Swahili translator and run a successful Chinese restaurant since arriving in Tanzania in the 1970s, organised the smuggling of ivory weighing a total of 1,889 tonnes.

Authorities believe she may have been active in the illicit ivory trade from as far back as the 1980s.

Speaking after Yang was jailed, campaigners said the prison time she was handed was not sufficiently long enough.

In comments made to the Reuters news agency, WWF Country Director Amani Ngusaru said: “[It] is not punishment enough for the atrocities she committed, by being responsible for the poaching of thousands of elephants in Tanzania.

“She ran a network that killed thousands of elephants.”

The poaching of ivory in Africa, which is estimated to have caused a 20% decline in the population of elephants across the continent over the course of the past 10 years, is driven by demand in Asia, where elephant tusk is used to make ornaments and jewellery.

Ivory is also used widely in Chinese medicine, and is thought by many in Asia to contain properties that can remove toxins from the body and contribute towards a glowing complexion.

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Number of rhinos killed by poachers in South Africa falls below 1,000 for first time in five years

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The number of rhinos that were killed by poachers for their horns in South Africa fell below 1,000 for the first time in five years in 2018, according to the country’s Department of Environmental Affairs.

In a statement issued last week, Environmental Affairs Minister Nomvula Mokonyane revealed that 769 rhinos lost their lives to poachers last year, making 2018 the third consecutive 12-month period during which the number of rhinos killed for their horns fell in South Africa.

As well as a fall in the number rhinos that were killed by poachers, last year also saw police in South Africa arrest 365 suspected rhino poachers, 229 of whom were detained inside or adjacent to Kruger National Park.

“The decline is not only indicative of the successful implementation of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros Approach countrywide, but also a confirmation of the commitment and dedication of the men and women working at the coalface to save the species,” Mokonyane said.

“Combating rhino poaching remains a national priority, and as such, all the relevant government departments will continue their close collaboration to ensure that this iconic species is conserved for generations to come.

“Although we are encouraged by the national poaching figures for 2018, it is critical that we continue to implement collaborative initiatives to address the scourge of rhino poaching.”

While rhino poaching deaths fell in the country last year, there was an increase in the number of elephants who were killed by wildlife criminals.

Across 2018, 72 elephants lost their lives to poachers who killed them for their tusks, with all but one of these being slaughtered in Kruger National Park.

While cautiously welcoming the fall in the number of rhino poaching deaths in South Africa last year, WWF International warned that the global crisis affecting rhino numbers is very far from over, noting that poaching remains  high across the region.

Dr Margaret Kinnaird, WWF Wildlife Practice Leader, commented: “Corruption remains a major part of the challenge in addressing rhino poaching and trafficking of wildlife products.

“To address this, we need to consider what draws people into wildlife crime.

“We must find a way to empower people working and living around protected areas to be invested in a future with wildlife, including helping identify those who break the law.”

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American sniffer dog helps find cocaine stashed in decorative tombstone

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A US drug sniffer dog has helped his handlers locate a “decorative tombstone” stuffed full of cocaine that had been imported into the country from Canada.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) drug dog Freddy sniffed out the shipment while working at an express consignment facility in Cincinnati.

Border officers moved to x-ray the container the tombstone was being shipped in after Freddy flagged it as potentially containing drugs, resulting in the discovery of a white powder hidden in a compartment inside the resin item.

Tests carried out later confirmed that the substance was in fact cocaine.

Commenting on the discovery, CBP Cincinnati Port Director Joshua Shorr said: “Our officers are committed to keep our country and communities safe from illegal and dangerous drugs.

“This seizure is one example of the quality enforcement work they do on a daily basis.”

In a statement relating to the seizure, CBP Cincinnati highlighted how its officers had recently discovered shipments of cocaine hidden inside items such as documents, piston heads and wheels.

At the beginning of January, CBP officers in Cincinnati intercepted two packages of tinfoil-wrapped sweets that later tested positive for methamphetamines.

After x-raying the packages of sweets, which were on their way from Mexico to Gridley in California, inspectors noted a number of anomalies, prompting them to take a closer look.

Having done so, they discovered that several of the sweets contained plastic capsules holding small bags of a white crystalline powder.

Police said both shipments contained a total of approximately 4kgs of methamphetamines.

“Cocaine and methamphetamines are dangerous and highly addictive stimulants,” the CBP said.

“Abuse of these drugs can lead to paranoia, exhaustion, heart conditions, convulsions, stroke, and death. Both are classified as Schedule II stimulants under the Controlled Substances Act.”

In a separate announcement, CBP officers in California last week revealed they had impounded more than 100kgs of cocaine concealed in produce cargo vessels arriving at Port Hueneme from Ecuador and Guatemala.

The drugs were discovered in two separate shipments, with just over 92kgs being found beneath the floorboards of a refrigerated vessel that had arrived from Ecuador, with the remainder uncovered on a cargo vessel arriving from Guatemala.

“This is the largest drug seizure at Port Hueneme in the last quarter of a century,” said LaFonda Sutton-Burke, CBP Port Director of the LA/Long Beach Seaport, and Port Hueneme.

“I’m extremely proud of the results of this joint effort, it shows the professionalism, vigilance and keen focus of both agencies in preventing dangerous drugs into our communities.”

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