The legalisation of cannabis in Canada and parts of the United States has been linked to a large increase in the drug being smuggled into Ireland through the postal system.
Figures obtained by The Irish Times show that so far this year authorities have seized 799 postal packages containing cannabis, worth just under €5 million. These are generally seized in postal centres, through the use of intelligence profiling and X-ray machines.
The figures from Revenue show the total weight of cannabis seized in the first seven months of 2023 is 241kg, equal to an average of 300g per seizure. In terms of total weight, this is a 55 per cent increase on the amount seized in 2019, the last comparable pre-pandemic year and almost five times the amount seized from the postal system a decade ago.
Cannabis seizures from the postal system began to increase in 2018 and soared during the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021. This was attributed to regular smuggling routes being shut down as a result of trade disruptions and travel restrictions.
In 2020, a record 3,703 postal packages of cannabis, worth €3.7 million, were intercepted. The following year, 4,789 packages worth €9.1 million were detected.
The use of the postal system to smuggle cannabis has remained high since the end of pandemic restrictions. Cannabis worth €7.4 million was seized last year, with this year on a similar trajectory.
Officials point to the legalisation of the drug in much of North America as a partial explanation.
“When a country legalises a drug you can sometimes see a spike, especially in the parcel importations,” senior Revenue official Andrew Ryan said.
“Cannabis comes in from a lot of different countries. Because it’s legalised in Canada and the USA in recent years both countries have become high risk and we’ve seen quite a lot of cannabis coming from there,” said his Revenue colleague, Shane Conway.
Canada legalised and regulated cannabis for recreational use in October 2018. Adults can possess up to 30g of cannabis and can grow up to four cannabis plants per household.
In the US, recreational use of cannabis is legal in 23 states and decriminalised in another eight. Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalise the drug in 2012.
Possession and supply of cannabis, including bringing it in from countries where it is legal, remains a criminal offence in Ireland. Medical use of the drug can be allowed in very specific circumstances and there are growing calls for the drug to be legalised for recreational use.
The issue is currently being considered by the Citizens’ Assembly on Drug Use, which is tasked with examining ways to reduce harmful drug use in the country.
In its submission to the assembly, the Labour Party called for legalisation for recreational and medicinal purposes, although Government Ministers have expressed concern about such a move.