Chinese drug enforcement authorities believe that the legalization of cannabis in Canada and parts of the United States has led to an increase in marijuana smuggling into the country and poses a “new threat to China,” according to a report from CNN. Liu Yuejin, the deputy director of the China National Narcotics Control Commission, said in a press conference in Beijing on Monday that the country of nearly 1.4 billion people now has 24,000 cannabis users, a figure that spiked 25 percent in 2018. Liu acknowledged that there are “few cannabis users” in relation to the total population.
“In two years, we have found increasing cannabis trafficked from North America to China,” he said.
Liu reported that China had intercepted 115 packages containing cannabis that had been sent to the country through international postal services in 2018. The parcels contained a total of “55 kilograms (1940 ounces) of cannabis and cannabis products.” Liu did not specify how many of the packages had been sent from Canada and the United States.
Most of the individuals suspected of being connected to the smuggled packages were either foreign students or Chinese nationals who had returned to the country after studying abroad, according to Liu.
Harsh Penalties for Drug Offenses in China
The penalties for those convicted of drug crimes in China can be severe. The death penalty can be imposed on those found guilty of possessing more than 50 grams of a controlled substance. In November of last year, Matthew Fellows, an American college student from Gambrills, Maryland, was released after spending eight months in a Chinese prison on drug trafficking charges.
Stephen Komorek, the operations director of the security, intelligence, and investigative firm Conflict International, helped Fellows’ family secure his release. He learned that the student, who speaks fluent Mandarin, had been accused of lighting a joint at a party and passing it to friends, an act which constitutes drug trafficking under Chinese law.
“In some places in China you can get the death penalty for as few as two counts of drug trafficking, Mr. Fellows had four, they have a zero tolerance approach,” Komorek said.
The investigation revealed that Fellows had been falsely accused.
“We discovered that there was a local interest in Mr. Fellow’s Russian girlfriend Victoria,” said Komorek. “Crimes were reported to the local police because of a romantic rival he was even unaware of. We quickly came to learn that the crimes Mr. Fellows was accused of, he did not commit.”
Fellows was released after the results of the investigation were shared with local authorities.
“Luckily the judge in the case was able to see the evidence we brought forward and the charges were dropped,” Komorek said.
Trump Claims China ‘Flooding’ US with Fentanyl
According to the U.S. government, cannabis isn’t the only controlled substance being smuggled between China and the United States. In 2017 and again last summer, President Trump accused the Asian nation of being the primary source of illicit fentanyl, a drug that is up to 100 times more potent than morphine that has been linked to up to 25 percent of overdose deaths in the ongoing opioid crisis. Trump claimed that China was “flooding” the United States with the drug through the U.S. Postal Service.
Senior officials with the National Narcotics Control Commission in China said that Trump’s comments were “unacceptable” and “irresponsible.”