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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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Police in Spain smash sham marriage network that charged migrants €12,000 for bogus nuptials

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Spanish police have arrested 30 suspected members of a sham marriage network that facilitated illegal immigration by setting up partnerships of convenience.

In an operation backed by Europol, investigators from Spain’s Policía Nacional carried out 11 raids on multiple residential and business premises, seizing more than €10,000 ($11,093) in cash along with evidence that indicted those detained were involved in the facilitation of illegal immigration and document fraud.

Members of the network are said to have set up sham marriages between male illegal immigrants and Spanish women, allowing the men to formalise their stay in the European Union.

Migrants seeking to avail themselves of the gang’s services would be charged as much as €12,000, with their bogus partners being paid €3,000 for agreeing to enter into fake marriages.

Members of the gang, which was made up of members of both Moroccan and Spanish origin, used a complex web of shell companies to facilitate the conspiracy, and had also set up a sophisticated money laundering operation, through which their profits were funnelled.

The network was based in the Valencia town of Sagunto, but also had bases in Morocco, Belgium, France and Italy, a fact that triggered the involvement of Europol.

In a statement, the EU law enforcement agency said: “Europol provided coordination and analytical support and facilitated the information exchange.

“On the action day, Europol also deployed experts on-the-spot to cross-check operational information in real time against Europol’s databases and to provide technical expertise.”

The investigation that led to the dismantling of the network was launched after Spanish police were alerted to potential irregularities in residence permit applications in Sagunto.

The two alleged leaders of network, a Spaniard and a Frenchman both of Moroccan origin, owned several companies in Sagunto, through which the Spanish women to whom migrants were married were employed.

Migrants who used the network’s services would either remain in Spain or be transported by the gang to France or Belgium.

In January of last year, police in Belgium and Portugal broke up an organised criminal gang that paid mostly Portuguese women to enter into sham marriages with Pakistani men.

Investigators arrested 17 suspects in Belgium and a further three in Portugal in a series of coordinated raids in an operation that targeted a network that was said to have paid women thousands of euros to marry the illegal immigrants.

Back in August 2018, law enforcement agencies in Romania and Poland held five members of an organised crime gang suspected of being behind the arrangement of sham marriages for Indian and Nepali nationals looking to gain access to the EU.

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US scientists develop edible security tags to thwart drug counterfeiters

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Researchers at Purdue University have created a small edible tag that can be embedded into medicines in order to prevent the counterfeiting of drugs.

In a paper published in the journal Nature Communications, scientists from the institution explain that drug counterfeiters would need to decipher complicated patterns not fully visible to the naked eye to get round the new security system.

The edible tags serve as digital fingerprints for individual pills and capsules, and are intended to help pharmacists verify the legitimacy of their stock before dispensing it to patients as well as being a method to discourage the counterfeiting of medicines.

According to the researchers, their invention uses an authentication technique called physical unclonable functions (PUF) that generate a different response each time they are stimulated, meaning that even drug manufacturers would not be able to recreate tags.

Taking the form of a transparent film made of silk and fluorescent proteins, the tags are easily digestible, meaning they can be consumed by patients when they take their mediation.

Commenting on the new technology, Jung Woo Leem, a postdoctoral associate in biomedical engineering at Purdue, said in a statement: “Our concept is to use a smartphone to shine an LED light on the tag and take a picture of it. The app then identifies if the medicine is genuine or fake.”

The tags currently last for at least two months before the proteins start to degrade, but Leem and his team are working on extending their life so as they can last until the expiry date of the drugs they are intended to protect.

As well as holding a security key that can verify the authenticity of medication, the tags could also hold other information, such as dosage instructions.

Leem has made two patent applications to protect the tags through the Purdue Research Foundation Office of Technology Commercialisation.

According to a report published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in November 2017, 10% of all pharmaceutical products circulating in low and middle-income countries at that time were either fake or of substandard quality.

The WHO said the trade in illicit pharmaceuticals is controlled by major organised crime networks who often channel their profits into other forms of illicit activity.

In March of last year, Europol revealed that a crackdown it had led on the sale of illicit pharmaceuticals across 16 countries in 2018 resulted in the seizure of some 13 million doses of counterfeit or smuggled medicines.

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British charity Dogs Trust warns pet lovers about being ‘dogfished’ by puppy smugglers

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‘dogfished’ by puppy smugglers

UK animal protection charity Dogs Trust has revealed that thousands of Britons may have been conned into buying puppies smuggled into the country illegally by organised criminal gangs in a practice it has dubbed “dogfishing”.

In a survey of 2,000 owners of puppies designed to establish how many may have purchased their pet from gangs that smuggled young dogs into the UK from countries in eastern Europe, the charity spoke with many animal lovers who described puppy dealers offering discounts for quick sales and lying about the age and breed of dogs.

The poll found that more than half (51%) of puppy buyers were not allowed to see the animal they were purchasing more than once, while 43% were not offered the chance to visit the puppy with its mother, which Dogs Trust described as two signs all might not be well.

Nineteen percent of respondents said they were not able to collect their puppy from the seller’s home, of whom a “worrying number” said they were asked to collect their new pet in a carpark or layby.

One woman told Dogs Trust how she was left heartbroken after purchasing a puppy that she saw advertised online on Christmas Eve, only to have to rush it to a vet for emergency treatment on Christmas Day because it had contracted parvo virus, a highly contagious and potentially fatal condition that causes lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The puppy had to be put down.

Launching a new campaign named Don’t Be Dogfished, Dogs Trust Veterinary Director said: “People think they are getting a healthy, happy puppy but behind the curtain lurks the dark depths of the puppy smuggling trade.

“Many of these poor puppies suffer significant health conditions or lifelong behavioural challenges, and sadly some don’t survive, leaving their buyers helpless and heartbroken – as well as out of pocket.

“This is why we are touring the country in a van like those used by puppy smugglers to educate the public on the shocking realities of the puppy smuggling trade and advising them how they can take action to avoid being ‘dogfished’.

“If it seems too good to be true, as hard as it is, walk away and report it.”

Many organised crime gangs across Europe have moved into puppy smuggling owing to the huge profit it returns for relatively little risk.

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