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European Authorities Bust International Drug Gang Which Bought Art to Launder Profits

A Europol-led operation called Eurojust has busted an international drug trafficking network that shipped cocaine to Latin America and ketamine to the Netherlands from Lithuania. It also smuggled cannabis from North Africa via Spain.

Italy’s interior ministry said that they had issued warrants against 31 people—most of whom were Italian nationals. The cash, as well as more than 150 kilograms of illegal drugs, was seized. Two transport companies’ bank accounts were also seized, as the money was allegedly being used to laundering.

An investigation started with two Milan-based restauranteurs being suspected of drug trafficking. The criminal network members tried to conceal their identities using characters drawn from literature, films and famous artists such as Obi-Wan Kenobi and Pinocchio.

The Age of Legalization: The Future of Coordinated European Drug Busts

European authorities have been relentless in their drug busts and investigations, even as cannabis legalization approaches in many countries. Three arrests were made in Spain last year. Indeed, Spanish authorities have identified Catalonia, home to Barcelona and the majority of Spain’s cannabis clubs, as the epicenter of Europe’s illegal weed market. Spain also serves as a key transit point for drugs coming from Latin America or from Morocco.

This coordination would not likely be possible without modification due to European cannabis reform. In Spain, the mega busts in the past 12 months involved farms that were spread over large areas and where cultivators previously informed police they had been sanctioned for their activities (i.e. Spain has legalized the cultivation of industrial hemp.

When cannabis becomes legal in Europe, how will the international police authorities be able to probe sophisticated criminal networks including cannabis-related ones?

The police will ask this question, but they also want to know the answer. This is what has made them so anti-reform in Europe.

Cross Border Trade and Changing Regulations

What authorities are able to do to distinguish legal and illegal cannabis? This is one of Europe’s most important (or terrifyingly disturbing) topics. As the Spanish bust showed, it is likely that this will get extremely sticky. What happens if the product is not legal in one country but is shipped across borders? How secure will they be and how can Europol get involved?

This question can be answered in three ways.

The first is that legitimate cannabis operations will not be mixed with other drugs—and the chain of title will have been documented clearly.

Second, legal cannabis wholesalers in Germany receive shipments from Europe of high-THC cannabis flowers for several years. However, the majority of them have at least been visited once in a while by police.

However, the third point is that as of now, both authorities and the industry will find it more difficult to navigate this complex situation. The legalization process is creating a multitude of regulatory and enforcement issues. This is complicated by a multitude of regulations. It will be unlawful for someone in Portugal to extract or produce EU GMP cannabis and then sell that product to a German entity (post-legalization), who only intends to sell the products to recreational users. What is the best way for a Holland producer to ship cannabis to Germany’s dispensary after legalization?

Such questions, for the moment, are not answered. You can be sure that there will be some clashes as the legalization of Europe continues, given the unabated enthusiasm of law enforcement to publicize large busts.