Smoke and Mirrors: International Investigation Leads to Arrest of More Than 40 Members of Cannabis-Trading App Worldwide
Last month, the Israeli police announced the detention of more than 40 members of the cannabis networking application Telegrass. Arrests–which occurred in the U.S., Germany and Ukraine–came as a result of a year-and-a-half-long international investigation that sought to deflate the network.
Telegrass is described as a “cannabis marketplace,” or the “Uber of weed.” It operates under the encrypted messaging platform Telegram. Telegrass members, who are vetted by its managers and organized by regions, used the app to buy, sell and converse about cannabis. The app has been shut down, and seized by Israeli officials.
Silver was arrested for cannabis use and possession on multiple occasions by Israeli officials. In 2012, he was detained, interrogated and placed under house arrest. In 2014 and 2015, Silver spent seven months in prison for trafficking cannabis. It was after that experience he created the network that become Telegrass.
Silver, an Israeli-American citizen, helped operate the app from the U.S. He now remains in the custody of the National Police of Ukraine. His wife, Gali, whose last name is being withheld, explained that Silver was arrested after he traveled to Kiev from New York to attend a wedding. Since the arrests, Gali’s home was raided, and her personal Facebook account was temporarily removed.
According to Haaretz, an Israeli new sources, the Telegrass raid came after an undercover agent helped expose members of the international network. Gali confirms this and said she spoke with the informer, who was disguised as a “dealer” on the app. Fifteen minutes later, police officers showed up at her home in New York.
At 10:15 p.m. EST on the night of March 11, Gali heard pounding at her door. She said, “I immediately felt chills over my whole body. I knew it was the police.” Gali was in the shower at the time. She stepped out, grabbed a towel and raced toward her son’s room, located near the front door.
“Open up,” said the voices from the other side, as Gali pleaded with them to allow her to put on clothes. ‘We don’t care, we have a warrant,’ she recalled hearing. She then described 40 to 50 officers entering her home. With only a towel, and in a panic, she begged the officers not to wake her young son.
Gali described the experience as humiliating, and chaotic. She said was taken to her room by four male, and two female officers. She was told not to move as she stood there naked, waiting for clothing, while several other officers walked “back and forth, breaking things [including bongs],” she said.
The police confiscated approximately 200 grams of cannabis. They also took her son’s tablet and both of their passports, she said. Gali said officers were in search of other substances, including heroin and cocaine, and cash. Her account lines up with a statement the Israeli police gave to the Israeli news source Haaretz, which read that, “in addition to selling drugs such as marijuana, hashish, cocaine and ecstasy, those arrested are suspected of running an organized crime ring, money laundering and tax offenses.”
The accusation that Telegrass is a drug-trafficking scheme is outrageous to Gali. “They are lying. She eemphasized that Telegrass is a platform for cannabis. Some channels host discussions about music, others about cultivation. Gali explained that the messaging app did host channels for members to communicate about three different psychedelics: MDMA, LSD and psydocylin (mushrooms), all of which are well researched and scientifically proven to be beneficial for things like PTSD, she noted.
Gali said she was interrogated for more that seven hours at the downtown Poughkeepsie Police Station. She was unaware that, at the same time, 42 senior administrative members of Telegrass were being arrested internationally.
According to The Times of Israel, police ambushed Silver in his hotel room as part of the “sting operation when an undercover agent posing as a fan of Silver’s invited him to a wedding … held in Kiev …, even going so far as to purchase his airfare from the U.S.”
Gali confirmed that Silver is being held at Lukyanivska Prison in Kiev. The institution is infamous for its poor conditions and overcrowding. His friends and family believe he is being treated inhumanely.
Silver’s friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it’s nearly impossible to communicate with Silver or get an update on his status. The source explained that Silver’s personal credit card has been used and that he has been injured while in jail.
Gali is also an Israeli citizen. When she first moved to the U.S., she said, “I was looking for other Israelis to hang out or smoke with.” That’s when she met Silver. She said she was immediately attracted to his caring personality, and loves “the way he sees the world.”
Through his work with Telegrass, Silver has encouraged members to donate to animal charities and to people–especially seniors–in need, Gali added. “Elderly people worked at Telegrass…. And young people who wanted to help their families. It’s such a beautiful, high-tech company that gave jobs and income and ability. This is who was arrested, and [Silver] wasn’t the only one,” she said.
Gali said the price of cannabis “went down 50 percent in two years since [Telegrass] was formed,” a fact confirmed by The Times of Israel. The crime rate also dropped significantly.
Telegrass raids came just one day after Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, publicly stated that he is “looking into legalizing cannabis,” Bloomberg reported.
Support for cannabis legalization in Israel is growing. In fact, the Mediterranean country is home to one of the world’s highest ratios of cannabis users. Last year, the Knesset–the Israeli congress–approved steps to decriminalize cannabis possession. Guidelines institute fines, rather than criminal prosecution, for small amounts of cannabis in private homes. The decriminalization plan went into effect on April 1, 2019.
This week, the country hosted CannaTech, an internationally renowned cannabis conference. The event draws thousands of attendees and leaders in science, technology, policy and other fields to Tel Aviv. Former Prime Minister of Israel and CEO of Canndoc/Intercure, Ehud Barak, opened the conference, drawing attention for his statement that Israel now should be considered the land of “milk, honey and cannabis.”
As for the Israeli people who helped mobilize cannabis legalization, Gali said, “They put them in jail.”