Drug dealers are increasingly using the post to send large consignments of cannabis around the UK in efforts to evade checks at ports, police have warned.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) and Border Force officials have recently intercepted several packages, including a parcel containing herbal cannabis worth £60,000 destined for an address in Belfast.
Detective Inspector Pete Mullan said criminals fearing security checks at borders are using standard mail services in the hope the illegal deliveries go unnoticed among millions of other parcels.
“The drugs come from the rest of the UK posted into Northern Ireland and from overseas as well, it’s a common method of dealers getting delivery of drugs,” he added.
“It’s something we are seeing more and more… I think they see it as a low-risk option.”
DI Mullan said drugs had been found hidden inside other objects, adding: “We’ve seen them packaged in children’s toys coming through the post.
“It can be put inside anything and sent in that way, it can be packaged as something else completely – numerous ways.”
Police investigations have been frustrated by dealers who move swiftly between rented properties to receive shipments.
The £60,000 package was intended for a home in Belfast, but when police raided it they found the occupant responsible had already left.
It comes as police in Northern Ireland seize increasing numbers of cannabis packages, with 4,618 seizures in the past 12 months compared to 4,375 in the year before, although the volume confiscated has fallen to 145kg from 366kg in the same period.
“People do need to think about where their money is going,” said DI Mullan warned.
“It’s not just something they are doing for themselves, it has a far wider impact on the health system, on other individuals and communities and it allows organised crime to flourish.”
Several smugglers have been caught attempting to take cannabis into the UK.
In April, a Malaysian man arriving at Edinburgh airport on a flight from Madrid was found with 10kg of cannabis with a street value of £100,000. He was later jailed for 18 months.
Possessing cannabis can be punished with up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine, while supply and production can see offenders jailed for up to 14 years.
The class B drug was lowered to class C by the Labour government between 2004 and 2009, amid persistent calls for cannabis to be legalised by campaigners.
Additional reporting by PA