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Cuba Drugs National Commission Secretary Antonio Ibarra speaks during a news conference in Havana, Cuba, June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini


By Sarah Marsh

HAVANA (Reuters) - The liberalisation of marijuana laws is fuelling drug trafficking but Cuba will not follow the trend of loosening restrictions on marijuana, a government official said on Thursday.

Antonio Israel Ibarra, the secretary of the National Drugs Commission, gave no specific figures for comparison but said Cuba had seized triple the amount of drugs from traffickers so far in 2017 compared with the same period last year.

He said the Communist-run country would not be joining countries in the region that have legalized cannabis for medicinal or recreational purposes.

"Cuba is facing a very difficult situation at the moment with regards to drug trafficking," Ibarra said at a news conference. "Firstly because in Latin America and the Caribbean, there is a group of countries trying to legalize, or that has legalized, the use of marijuana.

"We have not legalized it, nor will we."

Ibarra said another reason for the higher seizure rate of drugs was that criminal bands that used to smuggle people were reorganizing themselves to traffic drugs, now that the United States no longer offers Cubans special immigration treatment.

The United States in January ended its longstanding policy of admitting Cubans who set foot on U.S. soil. Cuba had said that policy encouraged its citizens to undertake dangerous voyages on the high seas and put their lives in the hands of traffickers.

Ibarra said the United States and Cuba continued to cooperate on drug trafficking issues, within the framework agreed upon last year and despite a fresh chill in U.S.-Cuban relations under President Donald Trump.

He said there had been no high-level meetings on the matter since Trump took office in late January. Trump last week announced a partial rollback in the U.S.-Cuban detente initiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama.

"This agreement foresees two high-level meetings per year," Ibarra said. "Since Trump's government took office, the first meeting corresponding to the first half of the year has not taken place.

"We hope, for the good of both countries, that the United States will not renounce collaboration."

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Bill Trott)

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