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High North

Nuuk looking to nip drug tide in bud

With cannabis already surpassing alcohol as the most abused substance in some towns, Greenlandic officials are looking for ways to stop drugs from entering the country
Find the joint in the container stack

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Customs authorities in Denmark say they are prepared to look into ways to prevent the flow of illegal drugs to Greenland after lawmakers in Nuuk earlier this summer expressed concern that not enough was being done to inspect ships sailing from Denmark.

Law-enforcement officials in Greenland say drugs, primarily cannabis in the form of hashish, arrive in Greenland in a number of different ways, but the primary route is aboard ships sailing from the port of Aalborg.

Previously, the port employed a part-time customs agent to carry out spot-checks on ships, but the employee retired earlier this year, and the Danish customs agency says it has no plans to replace him.

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Greenlandic officials, for their part, have ruled out inspecting all shipping containers being sent to Greenland from Aalborg, arguing that the 20 million kroner ($3 million) it would cost to purchase scanning equipment, coupled with an estimated annual operating cost of more than 5 million kroner was too expensive compared with the returns.

An estimated 200kg of cannabis is attempted smuggled into Greenland each year. Police say about a quarter of that amount is seized on average, but admit that they do not have the resources to inspect all airplane passengers or ship cargo arriving in the country.

Instead, Danish customs officials suggest carrying out more random checks, while at the same time improving information gathering in Denmark in order to break up shipping rings.

With the number of cannabis users steadily increasing over the past decade – from 20% of men between the ages of 18 and 24 in 2005 to 31% of men in the same age group in 2014 – lawmakers are also looking into other ways to address the problem.

SEE RELATED: For kids’ sake

Among the measures announced this summer were increased penalties for drug smuggling and the purchase of new scanning equipment that will be used to determine whether passengers arriving in the country’s main international airport are have swallowed drugs in order to smuggle them in.

Earlier this summer, Preben Westh, the commissioner of the Northern Greenland police district, told AG, a newspaper published by this website’s parent company, that in larger towns, cannabis has overtaken alcohol as the most widely abused substance.

Rather than seeking to combat smuggling, Mr Westh suggested that the focus should be on preventing people from using drugs.

With cannabis use so widespread, he cautioned that additional efforts to clamp down on drug smuggling were unlikely to stem demand. Instead, prices could be expected to rise.

That, in turn, would likely lead to a spike in crime. Cannabis in Greenland is estimated to fetch dealers 15 times more in Greenland than in Europe, and according to Mr Westh, the higher cost means the typical user already resorts to some form of crime to earn enough money to pay for the drug.