Three US nationals have been convicted and sentenced at Isleworth Crown Court, London, for the importation of class B drugs.
Barrington Walters, 24, from Los Angeles, California, Mandy Silowka, 34, from Princeton, New Jersey and Kiara Lanee Malone, 31, from St Louis, Missouri, were all stopped at Heathrow airport on their arrival from LAX airport in California when Border Force officials found cannabis in their luggage.
Walters had 33kg of cannabis flower in his luggage and was sentenced to 10 months imprisonment, Silowkac had 26.5kg, and was sentenced to 12 months. They travelled together from LAX on January 17th 2023.
Officials discovered Malone, who flew in alone on January 10th from LAX, to be in possession of 27.5kg of cannabis in her luggage. She claimed to be coming to the UK for a cosmetic surgery procedure and did not know what was in her luggage.
Malone pleaded guilty at the same court to the importation of class B drugs and will be sentenced on the 5th of April.
Officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) estimated that the street value of the cannabis brought into the country by the three was £1.7 million. However, based on reports leafie receives from those who buy cannabis from the street market, the more accurate figure would be closer to £1.1 million.
US cannabis imports – a rising trend
This latest case is similar to the story of other people from America coming to the UK with large amounts of cannabis in their possession.
On the 16th of January of this year 26-year-old Zerad Akolo, a photographer from Antioch, California, claimed to be visiting friends from university when he was stopped at Heathrow airport carrying approximately 47kg of cannabis flower in his luggage.
He was sentenced to 32 months in prison at Isleworth Crown Court on Thursday 16th February after pleading guilty to the importation of class B drugs.
Isabella Carrasco, 20, was stopped at Edinburgh airport last week on Wednesday 22nd February while she was in transit from LAX to London.
She is due to appear before Edinburgh Sherif Court next week after being charged with importing class B drugs.
In November 2022 at East Midlands airport in Nottinghamshire, a package sent from an address in Los Angeles, California, containing 153kg of cannabis flower was intercepted by Border Force officers.
Police executed a warrant at an address in Top Valey, Nottingham and arrested Curtis Campbell a 31-year-old who lived at the address.
He was subsequently charged with being concerned in the fraudulent evasion of a prohibition on the importation of a Class B drug and awaits trial.
“These cases serve as further warnings to those who think they can get away with smuggling drugs into the UK. No matter what you might get told by those organising these trips, you will get caught, and as these individuals will tell you, you will face jail time” Branch Commander of the Heathrow NCA, Andy Noyes, said.
The 200 or so kilos of cannabis recently intercepted pale in comparison to the 255 tonnes a year consumed by people in the UK. According to estimates in a 2018 Institute of Economic Affairs report the street value of the UK cannabis market is £2.6 billion per year.
Cannabis can and is grown illegally in large volumes in the UK. There is also a lucrative import market from overseas. Traditionally cannabis has been imported from places such as Morrocco and India in the form of cannabis resin, or hash as it is also known, and cannabis flower from places such as Thailand, The Netherlands, Albania and Spain.
Due to recent changes in the legal status of cannabis in many states in the USA, cannabis can be bought legally with little legal oversight.
Cali weed, a name given liberally to cannabis flower grown, or purported to be grown, in California, has gained almost cult status amongst many cannabis enthusiasts in the UK. Although it is often seeds imported from the US and grown in the UK, mispackaged and sold as cali.
Due to the belief by many that cali weed is of a higher quality, and its low price and easy availability in the US, people have found themselves tempted by the high rewards and have taken the risk of bringing it to the UK.
“Since the legalisation of cannabis in California in the 90s, there has been an increase in demand for cali weed in the UK. Consumers consider Californian cannabis to be a superior product to domestically grown, and dealers can command a higher price for imported flowers and extracts” a source told leafie.
“Meanwhile, the US market is producing more product than it can sell, resulting in a surplus of ‘mids’ – cannabis buds that are grown to the same standards but considered too small to sell to consumers in domestic dispensaries. As a result, there has been a rise in opportunist attempts to buy cheap surplus stock from the US and bring it to the UK where consumers are more interested in origin than flower size.”