BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s lockdown has reduced the amount of illegal drugs coming into the country and increased demand, with traffickers seeking new distribution channels.
Since the coronavirus pandemic restrictions began on March 20 drug smuggling crimes have decreased 90% compared to the same period last year and 83% compared to 2018, with the detected cases mainly relating to marihuana and cocaine, according to the security ministry.
The government department has warned that demand has not decreased which means there could be a “rearticulation of forms and structures in all the links of the chain, in such a way that traffic and contraband continue to be made possible to satisfy that demand.”
Gabriela Torres, director of the Secretariat for Comprehensive Drug Policies of Argentina (Sedronar), told EFE they have detected a higher consumption rate among people who previously had no history of substance abuse.
She attributed this to “uncertainty that is transformed into anguish” during the COVID-19 crisis.
Authorities fear that activities permitted during isolation have become new channels for drug traffickers.
Argentina’s Trade Union Association of Motorcyclists, Messengers and Services has reported an increase in delivery workers being used to distribute drugs.
Union director Gonzalo Ottaviano told EFE that this practice was first detected in 2018 and has increased over time but has exploded under quarantine.
“The worst thing we see is that it occurs more frequently in the context we are going through, with the COVID-19 pandemic this increased, apparently it is the only easy way to carry out these maneuvers,” he said.
A package is usually sent from the street without a specific address and Ottaviano said there is a problem with a lack of verification of data by the companies.
“I understand that the company is not an armed arm of drug trafficking but it does seem to me that they are a facilitating instrument, for whoever wants to do it it is the ideal tool, where you create an account without any type of support, you give any phone number, with any email,” he added.
The criminal responsibility in these cases falls on the delivery drivers, whether or not they are aware of what they are transporting.
“The distributor has to pay for the package when they pick it up, at that moment they are basically buying it, then they have to deliver it to another destination but until it is proven that all of this is real, they will have to explain this to the law,” according to Ottaviano.
Delivery drivers are often suspicious of these packages due to their weight but do not know what to do because if they report the company they usually block them which leaves them out of work.
Cannabis is one of the most common illegal substances in the country, particularly a variety called Paraguayan Pressing, which is a mixture of different parts of the plant and other substances that is cheaper than traditional kinds.
Leandro Ayala, president of the Argentine Cannabis Confederation, told EFE: “Nobody really knows what it contains, we know that the quality is not good.”
Under lockdown, this drug, which comes from Paraguay, has been seen less and less on Argentina’s streets.
Consumers are increasingly turning to self-cultivate the plant, a practice that is also illegal in the country.
Ayala manages a distribution of planting and consumption tools and says sales have increased by 500% since the quarantine began.
The activist said cannabis is “as essential as milk” for some people, since it also has medicinal uses, and said that in other countries such as the Netherlands people queued outside cannabis shops “to be self-sufficient due to the pandemic issue.”
Argentina legalized cannabis for medicinal use in 2017 but this is limited to children and young adults with refractory epilepsy.
Other cases, such as Parkinson’s disease, fibromyalgia and cancer patients, are not legally allowed to use the substance.
Drug abuse can weaken people’s ability to fight off the virus, as many illegal substances are depressants of the central nervous system.
This situation is exacerbated in the poorest neighborhoods, where the substances are poorer quality.