Cannabis seizures hit new high in Hong Kong
Drug dealers use postal service to evade arrest
published : 30 Sep 2019 at 19:33
writer: South China Morning Post
The amount of marijuana seized by Hong Kong customs has surged threefold this year amid the growing use of parcel delivery by drug dealers hoping to evade arrest.
As most of the drugs were smuggled from the United States and Canada, the Customs and Excise Department stepped up cooperation and intelligence exchange with its counterparts in North America to stop the long-distance trafficking, the South China Morning Post has been told.
A total of 227 kilogrammes of marijuana, with an estimated street value of HK$40 million (156 million baht), was confiscated in 103 cases in the first eight months of 2019, according to the department's latest figures.
This is triple the amount of the drug — 74.7kg — seized by customs officers in 67 cases in the same period last year.
The surge came as figures of the Central Registry of Drug Abuse showed there was increased cannabis abuse, especially among younger people, in the city despite the decrease in the total number of reported drug abusers in the first half of 2019.
One law enforcement source said one of the major factors in the rise in cannabis seizures was because it has become easy for drug dealers to source it in North America, where the use of recreational cannabis has legalised in most cities. In October, Canada legalised the recreational use of cannabis.
"[Cannabis] is sold for less than HK$200 a gram on the underground market in Hong Kong, but it could be bought for as little as HK$50 per gram from an authorised retail outlet in North America," the source said.
A second source believed more Hongkongers used cannabis because its legalisation overseas created the perception that cannabis was less harmful that other narcotics.
Most of this year's cases involved air parcels mailed from either Canada or the US. Parcel delivery is the common mode of drug trafficking for dealers trying to avoid being caught.
"To avoid detection, the drugs concealed in the parcels were usually camouflaged as tea or coffee and packed into vacuum-sealed bags to avoid detection," the second source said.
The South China Morning Post has been told drug traffickers have became cautious following a series of successful decoy operations, in which customs officers posed as couriers and delivered airmail parcels concealed with drugs.
But this year's biggest seizure, involving 30kg of cannabis buds, was found concealed in two suitcases belonging to a male passenger who arrived from Vancouver in February.
In addition to enhanced cooperation with overseas law enforcement agencies, the second source said stringent passenger and cargo clearance had also been put in place at various control points, especially in the airport.
"The [Customs and Excise] department attaches great importance to combating trafficking in dangerous drugs and take rigorous enforcement action in accordance with Hong Kong's law," a department spokesman said.
Separately, the department also detected 17 cases of cannabis products with an estimated value of HK$520,000 in the first eight months of 2019. Most of the cases included oil products, and personal care products.
The products, which are suspected to contain tetrahyrdro-cannabinol, classified as a dangerous drug in Hong Kong, have been taken for examination.
The department said the public should pay attention to the packaging labels of the products concerned, while buying something to avoid inadvertently breaking the law.
"Ignorance is not an excuse and prosecution will be initiated when the evidence justifies it," the spokesman said.
In Hong Kong, trafficking in a dangerous drug carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine.