COVID-19 Pandemic and Drugs
The COVID-19 pandemic that has spread around the world has affected many aspects of modern life and society, including crime and drug trafficking.
According to Professor of Criminology at Oxford University Federico Varese who has authored several books on organized crime, the business of crime has been seriously affected by economic downturn being felt in different countries, as police control is being stepped up as part of strict restrictive measures put in place by the government due to the epidemic. The longer the current situation lasts, the more difficult it will be for mobsters to go about their business. At the same time, Varese believes orders for the supply of medical equipment are likely to become a new source of income for the mafia, which they can obtain from the companies under their control, by buying up firms in distress or by lending their owners money to keep the business afloat.
Apart from this greater level of involvement in the shadowy business of supplying medical and pharmaceutical equipment and the sale and distribution of counterfeit drugs, experts from law enforcement agencies also believe that it may perhaps become easier for mobsters to find and convince people to play a more active role in drug smuggling due to the growing economic problems and organized crime. In addition, crime rings are sure to lobby to have laws that are favorable for them pushed through legislature.
The wave of drug-related legislative proposals that have recently been adopted by many states is firm confirmation.
The question of whether or not to legalize drugs is a widely debated topic. Legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes goes against the UN Single Convention, according to which marijuana can only be consumed for medical purposes. However, the question of legalizing drugs has recently become a more active discussion. The debate centers around decriminalization as well as the broader concept of drug liberalization. It is no secret that political groups and business communities have played a significant role in helping the sale of cannabis products to become the fastest-growing economic sector in the United States, and if efforts to legalize it across all 50 US states continue, the marijuana market could overtake the organic food industry in the coming years. It is therefore no wonder more and more countries are keeping a close eye on the “example” being set by the United States, interested in finding out how they could improve their own financial situation by legalizing drugs.
For instance, Estonian daily Postimees reported that the Ministry of Health in Luxembourg announced in the summer of 2019 that it plans to fully legalize the production and consumption of marijuana in the country within the next two years, and also called on other European countries to do the same and relax their drug laws. Luxembourg intends to use tax revenues generated from legalizing cannabis to increase funding for drug education and direct funding for programs to help drug addicts in the country.
Luxembourg will become the third country in the world to fully legalize marijuana, joining Uruguay and Canada. Marijuana use for medical purposes is legal in Denmark, Australia, Macedonia, Croatia, Romania, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Turkey and a number of other countries.
The question of legalizing drugs began to be discussed more actively with the beginning of the fight against coronavirus, as the financial situation in many countries deteriorated sharply, along with the criminal networks operating in them.
According to the Times of Israel, Israeli authorities have only recently come to a final decision on whether to allow medical cannabis to be exported, and have decided to allow it to be sold to other countries. This industry is expected to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue for Israel. Leading up to this, the Israeli media reported that the country had already introduced an order to relax punishments for smoking and possession of marijuana.
Parliament of the Czech Republic has approved a bill to allow cannabis to be exported for medical purposes. This news was announced on May 12 by Czech Minister of Health Adam Vojtěch. Speaking in support of this bill, the Czech Minister of Health pointed out that “competition created by allowing smaller producers to gain a license should lower the costs of the public health insurance system for patients, as well as reduce the cost of medicines for patients.”
The Albanian government is also preparing a bill to legalize the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes. This announcement was made by Albanian Prime Minister Edvin “Edi” Rama. Following Rama’s statement, European Union delegates in Albania felt the need to clarify that the European Commission and the EU Delegation to Albania had not been involved in drafting or consulting on reports regarding the legalization of medical marijuana in Albania.
At the same time, it should be mentioned that Albania is now believed to be one of Europe’s largest cannabis producers. At the beginning of 2020, the Italian media leaked a police report that said the volume of cannabis cultivated in Albania had “increased by 1200% or 12 times compared to 2018”. According to the data, there were about 100,000 plants discovered in the Albanian mountains.
European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, which has been studying the production and consumption of drugs in the EU for more than 20 years, published its 2019 report on where drugs come from in Europe and who uses them. The authors of the report conclude that the greatest danger Europe is currently facing is the “Uberization” of the cocaine trade for its users. It is repeated a number of times in the report that less drugs are being imported into Europe, as more and more drugs are being produced within the European Union. A range of different drugs are being produced in Europe on a more frequent basis. For example, most of the laboratories where MDMA and its close analogs are produced were found to be located in the Netherlands and Belgium, while out of 300 illicit methamphetamine laboratories reported in the European Union in 2017, a total of 264 were found in the Czech Republic.
Europe remains one of the world’s largest markets for illicit drug use. According to the report by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction, 91 million people have smoked marijuana at least once in their lives, which is about 27% of EU citizens, and 18 million people, or about 5% of EU citizens, have tried cocaine. In two thirds of EU countries (mainly in Western Europe), cocaine use has increased by 35% since 2014. More than 650,000 people are currently receiving treatment for heroin addictions. At the same time, a total of 1.5 million people are participating in drug substitution treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Valery Kulikov, political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.