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9 Americans Arrested for Smuggling Weed Into the U.K.

The United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency revealed on Tuesday that a total of nine Americans have been arrested in the span of one week for attempting to smuggle cannabis into the island nation. To determine whether the failure to legalize marijuana imports from California to the U.K. is connected, the law enforcement agency has begun an investigation.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) noted that nine individuals, all United States nationals, have been arrested since last week while trying to carry cannabis from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) to London’s Heathrow Airport. They were all charged with transporting between 30-50 kilograms (about 56-110 pounds) of cannabis in check baggage.

“We are working to understand how these seizures are connected, however to get this many off the same route in such a short period of time is clearly very unusual,” NCA senior investigation officer Darren Barr said in a statement from the agency. 

National Crime Agency

9 Pot Seizures In One Week

The first seizure was made on Tuesday, January 10, when a passenger arriving at Heathrow from LAX was arrested after the Border Force found about 30 kilos of cannabis in the traveler’s luggage. A second seizure took place on Friday and two additional interdictions were made Saturday. On Sunday, four additional seizures at Heathrow were made from cannabis coming out of LAX. The most recent attempt to smuggle was stopped on Monday, January 16.

The nine Heathrow seizure cases over the past week saw the confiscation of roughly 340kg (nearly 700 pounds) worth marijuana. Each of the nine American nationals who were arrested for trying to import class-B drugs into the country have been taken into custody and remanded in custody, pending their appearances at court.

Officials estimated the street value of the “herbal cannabis” at more than £5.5 million, or about $6.8 million, although law enforcement agencies have been known to make inflated estimates of the value of seized drugs. 

Officials from the NCA warned that if the suspects are found guilty, they will face severe penalties. The maximum sentence for importation of class B drugs to the U.K. is 14 years imprisonment and unlimited fines.

“Drugs couriers face stiff sentences so I’d urge anyone considering getting involved in such ventures to think very carefully about the consequences,” Barr noted. “Alongside partners like Border Force we are determined to do all we can to disrupt the organized crime groups involved in international drug trafficking.”

Steve Dann, chief operating officer for the Border Force, was highly praised by customs officers for their efforts in stopping the illegal entry of seized cannabis.

“Drugs fuel violence and chaos on the streets and inflict suffering in communities across the U.K. Thanks to the work by Border Force, these dangerous drugs were stopped from reaching Britain’s streets and causing significant harm to our neighborhoods,” said Dann. “This seizure demonstrates the successful joint partnership between the Border Force and NCA, as well as our common commitment to keep our communities safe and smash the illegal drugs trade.”

National Crime Agency

U.K. Cannabis Policy in Debate

Officials at Heathrow Airport are engaged in an ongoing debate about the U.K.’s cannabis policy. In July of last year, then-Home Secretary Priti Patel announced proposed new sanctions on users of cannabis and other drugs that include the confiscation of driver’s licenses and passports under a new three-strikes policy for illicit drug use. 

“Drugs are a scourge across society. They devastate lives and tear communities apart,” Patel said in a statement from the government. “Drug misuse puts lives at risk, fuels criminality and serious and violent crime and also results in the grotesque exploitation of young, vulnerable people.”

The Home Office’s white paper detailed the proposed proposal. Those caught using illegal recreational drugs could face penalties and education. These people could be expelled from clubs and entertainment venues.

Three months later, U.K. Home Secretary Suella Braverman revealed that she was considering tightening the classification of cannabis under the nation’s drug laws over concerns that marijuana is a gateway drug and can lead to serious health problems. Braverman’s review followed calls from law enforcement leaders to reclassify cannabis as a Class A drug, the same category assigned to substances including heroin, cocaine, and ecstasy.

Last month, the United Kingdom’s police chiefs announced that they would decriminalize possession of cannabis and cocaine. If the government adopts the plan, possession and use of small quantities of recreational drugs will be considered a public health concern for first-time criminal offenders rather than a criminal offence that can lead to imprisonment or prosecution.

The proposals, which were developed by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing, would effectively decriminalize the possession of Class A drugs including cocaine and Class B substances such as marijuana. The plan would allow those caught with illegal drugs to be given the opportunity to receive drug education and treatment, instead of being prosecuted.