Cannabis sweets packaged to look like bags of Haribo and Skittles are being sold and promoted on social media sites such as Instagram and Tik Tok, Sky News has found.
This screen recording shows a dealer’s channel on Telegram advertising a large number of cannabis gummies in brightly colored bags with fake branding.
Police say the packaging makes them appealing to children and at least six have been taken to hospital after eating cannabis candies. One child was only eight years old.
There are also concerns that the drug is being used to lure children into drug trafficking by county gangs, which are based in major cities but use young people to deliver and sell drugs to users in cities and areas. rural. Police in the East of England have said a third of those arrested in connection with cannabis edibles are under 18.
Candy is regularly promoted and sold alongside Class A drugs, including heroin, cocaine and LSD, as well as large amounts of marijuana.
Sky News found that the dealerships operate openly on the five most popular social media sites: Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and Snapchat. They also use Whatsapp and Telegram messaging services, and the latter is the most popular platform for resellers to provide pricing and initiate sales.
The story came to light after a dealer added a Sky News reporter on Instagram to an account selling cannabis candy.
The candies are known as gummies and are unrelated to the legitimate brands named on some packaging.
Some products using CBD, a chemical found in cannabis, are on sale legitimately in stores across the country, but these candies are illegal and contain high levels of THC – which is the chemical that gives high an user.
Many appear to have been brought to the UK from California, where drug laws are different.
But some also seem to be homemade.
Bulk orders are encouraged and dealers offer discounts on large orders of gummies and harder drugs.
Searching Telegram for the word ‘gummies’ brings up many groups where the sweets can be bought for just £5. One group has 62,000 subscribers and two others have nearly 30,000 and 16,000 subscribers each.
Typing the word ‘edibles’ on Facebook Marketplace in the UK brought up articles containing drugs. About a third of the first 40 results were advertised as containing cannabis.
Those searching for “uk gummies” on TikTok have seen results showing mostly legal gummies, but the app offers suggestions that direct users to gummies offered by dealers.
These suggestions include searching “how to get edible gummies in the UK” and “telegrampluguk” (plug being a term for a dealer or someone who can put you in touch with a dealer) and “gummies with htc uk” ( htc being a variant spelling of THC).
A dealer network seems to operate on some of the social sites. For example on Instagram, looking at the accounts followed or followed by a seller leads you to discover more sellers.
Cannabis sweets are a problem for police forces in the UK. Almost all police forces in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have had an issue with sweets in their area, and 80% have issued a statement or confirmed it to Sky News .
The Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU) has a unit that manages the threat of serious and organized crime in the east of England and covers Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex.
ERSOU intelligence shared with Sky News suggests boys and girls under the age of 18 are consuming cannabis edibles, primarily those of secondary school age.
A third of those arrested in connection with cannabis edibles in the eastern region are under the age of 18.
ERSOU Chief Detective Inspector Rob Burns says cannabis edibles are illegal and have side effects, such as unconsciousness.
He said: “The way they’re branded to look like candy suggests they’re being marketed to children, but it also means worryingly that they could easily fall into the wrong hands.
“We also know that gangs involved in the counties will use an array of tactics to target vulnerable young people, and reports suggest that social media is being used to advertise the sale of cannabis edibles, potentially to lure young people who use multiple social media platforms. .”
He added that anyone with information about the sale of these items or who believe a child is being exploited to sell them should contact the police.
The social media companies mentioned in this article have all told Sky News they have strict policies prohibiting the buying or selling of any drugs, including sweets containing THC. They say they are actively monitoring this issue on their platforms using a mix of technology and humans to review content.
Meta, which owns Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp, said it proactively removed 98% of this content in the past quarter and was working with police and youth organizations to improve their moderation.
Most of the accounts and search terms flagged in Sky News’ investigation have now been banned.
The companies behind the candies and snacks whose brand name is copied by drugmakers have already spoken out against the look-alike packaging, and some have taken legal action.
Sky News has blurred account names to avoid giving sellers publicity.
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