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A man who blamed COVID-19 for unknowingly transporting cannabis has been sentenced to jail for just over a year.
On Sept. 9, police officers in the northwestern English town of Carlisle arrested a restaurant delivery driver after discovering that his trunk was full of laundry bags containing some 13 kilograms of cannabis with an estimated £130,000 street value. The driver said he had no idea: After getting COVID-19, his sense of smell was supposedly shot.
“Asked if he had smelled a strong smell of cannabis, he said he had had COVID three weeks before and couldn't smell it,” said prosecutor Gerard Rogerson, as reported by the BBC.
Quynh Thai may have been the only one who didn’t know he was hauling loud around. Law enforcement on the case reported that they could smell the weed from outside the car.
A judge didn’t buy the no-smell, no-tell defense. On Tuesday, the court sentence Thai to 14 months in jail.
Though certain uses of medicinal cannabis products were legalized years ago in England, recreational use, sale, or transportation of the flower itself continues to be illegal. Simple possession can land someone up to five years in jail. Thai’s sentence could have been harsher, given the amount of marijuana found in his possession.
Regardless of the laws on the books, they are not applied evenly in England. Statistics from 2020 say that some 10 percent of those found guilty of cannabis-related crimes in the country are Asian, despite them making up only eight percent of the population. (The disparity is even worse among England’s 3 percent Black population, who make up 20 percent of convictions.)
"You fled from the police initially,” the judge said upon sentencing. “I am quite satisfied that was because you knew exactly what was in the car, and you knew the reason why you were driving it.”
Right — the car chase. Cops first spotted Thai on the M6 highway between Carlisle and the town of Penrith. He was not keen to speak with officers and managed to escape temporarily, finally being apprehended near the village settlement of Durdar.
To credit Thai's defense, it is common knowledge that COVID can cause the loss of one’s sense of smell and taste. Otherwise known as parosmia, abnormalities in one’s ability to smell can last long after the body has rid itself of the virus.
In fact, one study published on the Yale University-owned website medRxiv found that after 200 days, half of men and 60 percent of women who had reported a loss of smell during their COVID infection had still not recovered more than 80 percent of their olfactory abilities. (The study is not peer-reviewed, meaning that its results should not be taken as definitive.)
That is to say, this man most certainly could lack a sense of smell after getting COVID three weeks prior. It seems unlikely that he’s a drug kingpin, or deserves to be in jail for more than a year, at any rate. Thai says that a man in an “Asian food shop” offered him £200 to drive a car from Manchester to Carlisle.
"He claimed he was told it was medicine and food,” said Rogerson. Given the fact that cannabis is legally considered medicine in Great Britain and hemp cuisine is, assuredly, a thing, it seems like Thai was missing some vital information — with the possible addition of his olfactory capacity.