Illegal cannabis sweets packaged to look like bags of Haribo and Skittles are being sold for as little as £5 on social media.
‘Fruity pebble cereal’, ‘Lucky charms cereal’, ‘Sour Glowwarms’ and ‘Stoney Patch’ are just some of the names of the so-called ‘edibles’ and ‘gummies’ advertised on Telegram.
A quick search on the messaging app takes you to a British drug dealer’s channel created in March, with nearly 30,000 subscribers.
Pictures shared on the app show boxes and boxes full of brightly colourful bags designed to look like brands popular with children.
In some cases, the imitations can look so similar to the original that the images give the impression they were taken inside an American candy store.
Though the fake merchandise is not officially associated with the high-street brands, they make the drugs enticing for youngsters, police have warned.
At least six have been taken to hospital after eating such cannabis sweets, with one child aged only eight, Sky News reported as part of an investigation into the illegal trade.
Detective chief inspector Rob Burns, from the Eastern Region Special Operations Unit (ERSOU), says cannabis edibles are illegal and have side effects, such as loss of consciousness.
‘The way they are branded to look like sweets suggests they are being marketed at children, but worryingly also means they could easily fall into the wrong hands,’ he told the channel.
‘We also know that gangs involved in county lines will use an array of tactics to target vulnerable young people, and reporting suggests social media is used to advertise the sale of cannabis edibles, potentially to appeal to younger people who are using multiple social media platforms.’
ERSOU has a unit which manages the threat of serious and organised crime across eastern England and covers Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Kent and Essex.
But such sweets are a problem for almost all police forces across the country.
They are also routinely promoted and sold alongside class A drugs including heroin, cocaine and LSD, as well as large quantities of marijuana.
Many appear to have been brought into the UK from California, where drug laws are different.
There are also concerns the drugs are used to lure children into trafficking drugs by county lines gangs.
Normally, these are based in big cities but dealers are known to use youngsters to deliver and sell drugs to users in towns and rural areas.
Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp, where ads about gummies and edible have also appeared, told Sky News they removed 98% of this content proactively in the last quarter.
Meta, which owns all three apps, stressed it is working with the police and youth organisations to further improve the moderation.
A spokesperson for Telegram also said: ‘Since its launch, Telegram has actively moderated harmful content on its platform – including the sale of illegal goods.
‘Through user reports and proactive moderation of public chats (such as public groups and channels), Telegram has banned millions of chats and accounts for violating our Terms of Service.’
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