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Youth cannabis trade migrating to social media

Police have found that young people are increasingly turning to social media to buy and sell cannabis. The problem is increasingly prevalent in large cities and even includes secondary school students.

Ylikonstaapeli Janne Aro-Heinilä tutkii Nousiaisista löydettyä isoa kannabisviljelmää. Kuvassa kaksi lähes Aro-Heinilän korkuista kannabiskasvia.
Sargeant Janne Aro-Heinilä inspects a crop of cannabis discovered in Nousiainen lasy summer. Image: Eino Telkinen / Yle

Closed discussion groups, as well as social media and sharing networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram have become preferred channels among young people, not just for sharing everyday experiences, but also for peddling illicit drugs such as cannabis.

“They overwhelmingly get cannabis. When we investigate the matter further, we often find other drugs are also traded, generally amphetamines,” said southwest Finland internet surveillance police officer Riku Sukari.

According to Sukari, investigations into youth drug offences reveal that social media have been the channel for almost all drug trades. Snuff is often sold openly on personal Facebook pages, but cannabis typically changes hands via the anonymous network Tor. Unidentified email or face-to-face transactions are then used to close the shady deals.

Sukari said that using the concealed Tor network to acquire marijuana, other drugs or even prescription medication is child’s play. These kinds of online deals are so secret that law enforcers are usually the last to know about them.

“These deals are conducted using all the channels where messages can be exchanged. Usually when a young person is busted for a drug deal, some information has at least been exchanged via text messages. And of course it’s easier to get caught making a deal on the street than online. These usually emerge only during an investigation,” he noted.

Online police receive weekly tips about online cannabis deals by young people. Usually the informant is a concerned parent or even a teacher.

“They may have found a message from a child wanting to buy a “gram of bud”, and parents have asked what it means. It’s really a gram of cannabis flowers. Parents often believe that they have no right going through their children’s mobile phones but parents’ responsibilities also extend to social media. There is very little personal privacy in families and the child’s best interests take precedence," Sukari counseled.

Youth doping in groups

A recent school health survey found that drug use and experimentation among young people in Turku had increased over the past two years. One-fifth of vocational students said they had at least tried out drugs.

Among upper secondary school students 14 percent said they had experimented with illegal substances. And even younger children are testing drugs: 10 percent of 8 and 9 graders said they had used some kind of drug at least once.

Last year just over 300 18-year olds from southwest Finland were caught red-handed with illicit drugs. Back in 2012, the number was under 200 and as many as half of those apprehended were also peddling drugs to others.

The youngest children caught using drugs were 11 and 12 years old. They often bought cannabis from older suppliers, but according to Sukari children’s circle of friends plays a major role in acquiring drugs and smoking cannabis is often a feature of unsupervised house parties.

“No one smokes cannabis alone in a corner of the school yard,” Sukari pointed out.

The net officer said that cannabis use is increasing because young people don’t see the drug as dangerous. Small scale domestic cannabis farming has also contributed to its popularity.

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