Virtually any kind of illegal drug can be bought on the Internet and delivered by post to users who no longer need to make direct contact with dealers, an EU study published on Thursday said. It gave no statistics on online drug sales, which are normally conducted on so-called “darknets”, or anonymous computer networks.
The report, compiled by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) and Europol, the pan-European police agency, said increased globalisation and communication technology made it harder to track drug routes.
“Practically any type of drug can be bought on the Internet,” Europol director Rob Wainwright told a briefing. “The consumers may feel that it is ‘cleaner’ to buy drugs without any direct contact with the drug dealer.”
These drugs are being moved through legitimate forms of commercial transportation – containers, aircraft and postal services, all making the drugs harder to intercept.
EMCDDA director Wolfgang Goetz said drug users’ behaviour was also changing.
“Patterns of drug use have become more fluid, with consumers often using multiple substances or substituting one drug for another,” Goetz said.
Northwest Europe a major concern
Europol’s Wainwright said drug trafficking was the main activity of organised crime groups, providing funding for other criminal activity.
The report pinpointed northwest Europe — Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium and northern France — as an area where organised crime is high, partly because of its many transport hubs, and Wainwright said the region’s status as a final destination for cocaine and heroin, as well as people trafficking and illegal immigration, made it a major concern.
The report recommended that the European Union work to target high-value crime groups, develop intelligence on the geographic relocation of potential criminals, interrupt money flows and create barriers to drug sales on the Internet.
EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said ministers from the 27 member states would study the report for possible policy changes and action across the European Union.
“We need to keep pace with these new developments and adapt our policies and responses to this reality,” Malmstrom said. “National measures, however robust, will simply not be sufficient if implemented in isolation.”
The European Union is an increasingly important producer of synthetic drugs and cannabis, with mobile production units making it easy for synthetic drugs to be concealed during manufacturing.
“As with synthetic drugs, there has been a trend towards producing the drug near to its intended consumers,” Goetz said. “This will be a growing trend in the future.”
The report estimated 2,500 tonnes of cannabis are consumed each year in the European Union and Norway, with a retail value of 18-30 billion euros.
Malmstrom said no European-wide legalisation of cannabis is on the Commission’s agenda.
Luke “Ming” Flanagan, an Independent TD for Roscommon, who intends to table a Bill early next year, said it “didn’t come as any surprise” that the British committee had concluded legalisation of drugs should be considered.
Mr Flanagan said, in relation to cannabis, legalisation would take thousands of cases out of the criminal justice system each year, freeing up Garda resources. He also said if taxation were applied on sales of the drug that this would generate revenue and legalisation would take profits away from drug gangs.
“From a health point of view people would know what they were getting,” Mr Flanagan added, saying drug dealers bulk out quantities of illicit drugs, with a variety of substances the health effects of which are unknown. The TD made his comments after the British parliament’s home affairs committee said Britain’s drugs policy was not working and called on prime minister David Cameron to appoint a royal commission to review the issue.
The report said it had been impressed by Portugal’s decriminalised regime where users are not prosecuted over small amounts of drugs and are instead referred to a non-criminal “dissuasion commission”.
It said the government should also fund research into the effectiveness of marijuana legalisation in the US states of Washington and Colorado, as well as into Uruguay’s proposed state monopoly on cannabis production and sale.
However, Mr Cameron yesterday ruled out a fundamental review of the government’s approach to drugs: “I don’t support decriminalisation. We have a policy which actually is working in Britain. Drugs use is coming down, the emphasis on treatment is absolutely right, and we need to continue with that to make sure we can really make a difference,” he said. – (Additional reporting PA/Reuters)
The publication of a six-year study from the UK Drug Policy Commission (UKDPC) today reveals that the £3bn spent annually tackling drugs is not evidence-based and calls for a “wholesale review” of existing laws.
Its report, “A Fresh Approach to Drugs”, examined the effects of drug policy and makes recommendations ahead of the UKDPC being wound up this autumn. The report recommended recategorising the possession of small amounts of drugs for personal use as a civil and not criminal offence.
It said there was an argument for amending the laws relating to growing cannabis for personal use which might “go some way to undermining the commercialisation of production”.
In England and Wales 160,000 people are given cannabis warnings each year. The National Treatment Agency for Substance Abuse says 2.8 million people in England use drugs, but only 300,000 use heroin and crack cocaine which “cause the most problems”.
The UKDPC report said there are “some moderately selfish or risky behaviours that free societies accept will occur” and seek to limit but not prevent entirely, such as “gambling or eating junk food”.