As international borders remained closed through most of 2020 owing to the pandemic, officials from India’s drug law enforcement agency turned their attention towards cannabis dealers within the country, resulting in drug busts halfway through 2020 exceeding those in all of 2019.
As a region in the south-eastern state of Andhra Pradesh emerges as India’s new cannabis capital, law enforcement agencies have started to actively crack down on those smuggling cannabis in the Visakhapatnam area (the state’s executive capital). In the past year, hundreds of kilos have been seized by cops almost every month. According to The Times of India, over 3,000 kgs of marijuana were seized in Vizag (another name for Visakhapatnam) alone, with over 170 people being arrested. Owing to this rise in vigilance, dealers are now shifting to an innovative alternative: hashish oil.
"After multiple huge consignments of ganja (Indian slang for marijuana) were seized by the DRI (India’s apex anti-smuggling agency), excise and police departments in Telangana and Andhra pradesh, the suppliers started manufacturing hashish oil as an alternative. Unlike ganja, it is easy to conceal and transport hashish oil,” said an excise official.
Hash oil is the oil extracted from cannabis, which can have a higher concentration of THC (the major psychoactive substance in cannabis) than regular buds, making it more potent. Apart from being easy to conceal, it is also easy to consume. It can be used with a portable vaporizer pen or an e-cigarette, in droves, or vapourised directly, also known as dabbing, which allows the user to get nothing but its potent effect and flavour.
Smugglers in the Vizag Agency region of Andhra Pradesh have been coming up with ingenious methods to make money through the production of hash oil by processing dry cannabis leaves in remote areas so as to avoid scrutiny.
The Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) personnel have observed that unlike regular buds, which are relatively easy to identify, hash oil can be conveniently concealed and transported to other cities in plastic containers, including plastic bottles. They are reported to be preparing hash oil using cannabis paste along with additional ingredients such as poppy seeds and other narcotic substances.
Local officials also suspect that smugglers in the region are receiving financial and technical support from inter-state gangs, who are sourcing it from Vizag and smuggling it into the bigger cities of Bengaluru, Mumbai, New Delhi, and Hyderabad, among others, and making sizeable profits on these deals. While a kilogram of marijuana is said to fetch a price ranging from Rs 3,000 to 5,000 ($41-69) in the Vizag Agency region, hash oil in similar quantities can be sold for as much as $343-686, depending on the quality of the oil.
The chief of the local police Manish Kumar Sinha told The Times of India that in recent days, cops have seized over 966 kgs of dry cannabis and 11 kgs of hash oil from smugglers and users alike, who have been booked and sent to remand. They have also noticed that in many cases, consumers end up becoming dealers. Recently, police in Bengaluru arrested a 27-year-old student, who had been illegally peddling hash oil after sourcing it from a contact in Andhra Pradesh. Only last week, two others were arrested by cops in the city who recovered hash oil and cannabis worth $16,486, sourced from the same region. In November 2020, three people were arrested with three kilos of hash oil worth $34,347, who were allegedly planning to sell the oil sourced in Vizag through a network of contacts made in Bengaluru and the southern state of Kerala.
"Of late, a syndicate from Kerala has been found to be involved in trafficking hashish oil from Andhra Pradesh to Bengaluru and Kerala and further exporting it to the Middle East, Maldives and Sri Lanka," a press release by the Narcotics Control Bureau had said.
Despite arresting smugglers who are supposedly point men for shifting contraband from one point to another, law enforcement officials are yet to zero in on the kingpins of this trade. “We will continue our raids to nab peddling gangs,” said Sinha.
The rising popularity of hash oil in India coincides with the substance becoming an international sensation. However, it has also become a significant cause of home combustions. The most common, and the cheapest, method of producing hash oil involves using butane to extract the THC from marijuana leaves. While the method is dangerous enough to begin with, when attempted in ventilated indoor labs, the risk of explosion becomes multifold when done in home labs. In recent times, butane hash oil has been suspected to be the cause of several large-scale explosions, especially in the U.S. In May 2020, 11 firefighters were injured in an explosion in what was described as a factory making butane hash oil in Los Angeles.
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