HK customs reports 500 per cent spike in marijuana seizures, most sent by airmail after Canada’s move to legalise

26-Apr-2019 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:00 AM Print This Post

The amount of marijuana seized on entry to Hong Kong has increased 500 per cent from 2018, equalling nearly all of last year’s total in the first three months of this year alone.

Law enforcement officials said on Wednesday that the boom in illegal cannabis stems from Canada’s move to legalise the sale and recreational use of the drug in October last year. Since then, officials said, Hong Kong had seen a wave of marijuana parcels airmailed from North America and camouflaged as food.

Anti-drug sources said the legalisation in Canada had given some Hongkongers the perception that marijuana was less harmful than other illicit drugs, creating a curiosity that led to greater demand in the city.

The latest figures from the Customs and Excise Department showed that 137kg of cannabis with an estimated street value of more than HK$30 million (US$3.8 million) was confiscated by customs officers in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 500 per cent compared with 22.7kg in the same period last year.

Customs officers confiscated a total of 141kg of cannabis in all of 2018.

According to law enforcement sources, customs have seized dozens of parcels, most carrying 1 to 2kg of marijuana. The cannabis was believed to have been sourced from Canada and the United States and was meant for the local market.

In a bid to stop the dramatic increase in long-distance trafficking, Hong Kong customs has boosted intelligence exchanges and cooperation with counterparts in Canada and the US, the source said.

Customs officers said they noticed an “obvious” rising trend of cannabis being hidden in parcels and mailed to Hong Kong from Canada, especially after the country legalised recreational use.

In turn, local customs officers had stepped up inspections of parcels from the targeted countries at the airport’s cargo terminal.

“Enhanced enforcement action is one of the main factors behind the sharp increase in seizures,” the source said.

Cannabis has also been smuggled into the city through other channels. On February 18, a 36-year-old man was arrested at the airport after arriving from Vancouver with 30kg of cannabis buds concealed in two suitcases.

The law enforcement source said it was possible the legalisation of recreational cannabis in Canada had attracted local drug dealers to acquire marijuana there.

But he said there was no indication that the drug was bought or sent from the retail outlets in Canada that are licensed to sell cannabis, suggesting it was purchased on the black market.

“The parcels were mostly sent from Toronto and Vancouver, but the names of the senders and their addresses were usually fake,” he said.

In Hong Kong, a gram of cannabis is sold on the street for about HK$280 (US$36). The source said the drug could be bought for as little as $5 per gram in the United States.

According to customs officials, the most common method of concealment is to “camouflage the drugs as foodstuffs, like raisins and dried fruits”.

Another source said the cannabis found in parcels was usually packed into vacuum-sealed bags and in some cases wrapped in aluminium foil.

“We believe the vacuum-sealed bag is used to preserve the drug and contain the strong smell of cannabis in an attempt to foil sniffer dogs,” the source said. He said smugglers likely thought aluminium foil would shield the contraband from detection by X-ray.

“Hong Kong customs is closely monitoring drug trends all around the world and stepping up enforcement accordingly,” a department spokesman said.

“Stringent passenger and cargo clearance is put in place while cooperation with other enforcement agencies is also maintained,” he said.

In Hong Kong, cannabis is classified as a dangerous drug. Trafficking a dangerous drug carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine.


Category: Hong Kong

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