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20th Jan 2020

Illict drugs getting into EU via Internet

  • Europeans smoke 2,500 tonnes of marijuana every year (Photo: "it was 3 a.m.")

Europe’s illicit drug problem is getting worse as online sale and distribution frustrate law enforcement.

Online anonymous sale points known as "darknets" now provide discrete access to almost any sort of drug with police finding them difficult to infiltrate and track.

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“We are trying to penetrate this very murky, underground area of the Internet,” Rob Wainwright, the head of the Hague-based police agency Europol, told journalists in Brussels on Thursday (31 January).

People seeking synthetic or other psychotropic highs turn to the Internet where sales are anonymous and more secure.

Some use PayPal, prepaid payment cards, or virtual and difficult-to-trace currencies known as bitcoins to avoid police detection and physical contact with sketchy dealers.

Speaking alongside EU commissioner for home affairs Cecilia Malmstrom and the head of the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), Wainwright said the development of the Internet has given Europol the “most cause for concern.”

Out of reach and difficult to trace, the private peer-to-peer networks are also used for other sorts of criminal activities including the sale of forged documents.

The Internet is the main distribution point for so-called legal highs that are designed to reproduce the effects of controlled drugs.

The EU drug agency says they are monitoring 250 legal highs such as piperazines, an organic compound that acts as a stimulant.

“In a short period of time, legal highs have become a global phenomenon,” said EMCDDA director Wolfgang Gotz. Around 73 legal highs entered the market last year, up from 49 in 2011.

The conclusions are but some of among many from the EMCDDA and Europol in a joint 180-page report on the EU drug markets released the same day.

The report notes that last year, Europeans smoked almost 2,500 tonnes of marijuana corresponding to a retail value of between €18 billion to €30 billion.

Hashish is most common in Italy, Spain and France, while marijuana - or "grass" - is mostly smoked in the United Kingdom and Germany.

The possession of small amounts of the drug is not a criminal offence in several member states, but Malmstrom told reporters that the commission has no plans to push for EU-wide legalisation of the plant, even though it is gaining greater acceptance for its medicinal properties.

On Wednesday, the Czech Senate approved a bill that would allow the sale and distribution of the drug for medical use, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Meanwhile, overall EU cocaine and heroine use is down, but supply remains high as Mexican drug cartels muscle into a market traditionally dominated by the Colombians.

Despite the drop in use, cocaine remains Europe’s most trafficked drug.

Both drugs end up mostly in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Ireland as well as northern France and Belgium.

“Criminals operating in that region are among the most significant in Europe,” said Wainwright.

EU commission attacks 'legal highs'

The EU commission has proposed to make it easier to ban "legal highs" and for countries to jail people who ignore bans.

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