Yesterday the EMCDDA released their annual report on drug usage (PDF) marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Single Convention on narcotic drugs which legally binds the leaders of the developed world in to supporting the prohibition. The report uses the most recent data available provided by the EU member states to base it’s estimations which are detailed below.
7283 tonnes of cannabis is currently seized per year worldwide (1261 tonnes of hash and 6022 tonnes of herb).
This figure is only the cannabis seized which is a fraction of the cannabis used. The EMCDDA estimates that the amount of cannabis produced this year was 76,000 tonnes (based on ground surveys and satellite imagery of out door crops). Considering the amount of cannabis that was likely to be missed by the satellites or is grown indoors in secret, the real figure is therefore likely to be far higher.
According to the EMCDDA about 10% of cannabis being produced is currently being seized. Interestingly, the EMCDDA reports that cannabis use is decreasing whilst cannabis cultivation is increasing. This supports the long standing theory that prohibition is in the interests of drug dealers because it pushes up the value of an easy to produce commodity to above the weight of hard to mine commodities such as gold and oil. This increases both the incentive for production and the incentive for it’s use by gangs for money laundering. Interestingly despite all of this…
There may be “no simple relationship” but in not one case does an increase in penalty reduce cannabis use! Not one case!
Government crackdowns on safrole production (the precursor to MDMA) resulted in a short term drought in MDMA (in 2009). This was combated in two ways, firstly producers switched to different precursors, namely PMK‑glycidate and alpha‑phenylacetoacetonitrile that are structurally similar. Dealers also began cutting MDMA with research chemicals such as piperazines (e.g. BZP and mCPP), mephedrone, methylone, MDVP and PMMA (which as I noted in August has appeared in the UK pill market) demonstrating how the prohibition is raising the health risk to consumers exponentially.
Ironically, the drug war seems to be leading to the exponential increase in the creation, distribution and use of substances never properly researched or tested.
According to the EMCDDA 5.4 tonnes of ecstasy is seized per year. This compares to 732 tonnes of cocaine, 33 tonnes of Amphetamines, 31 tonnes of crystal meth and 0.1 tonnes of LSD.
Mephedrone was banned in the UK in mid 2010 with a European directive going ahead for it to be made illegal across all of Europe in December 2010. At the time of the Europe wide ban there had only been one death formally cited as due to mephedrone and no formal research on the drug. This is where the EMCDDA data gets shaky. The EMCDDA claim that in UK there were 46 deaths in 2010 associated with confirmed mephedrone use but there is no detailed data. The report notes that 65 suspected mephedrone deaths led to the ban but in only 46 cases was mephedrone present in a toxicology sample. It appears likely, due to the lack of deaths formally attributed to mephedrone that mephedrone was not the cause of death in the majority of the 46 cases. It is difficult to reach a conclusion due to the lack of any formal research. Interestingly, there was a sharp and substantial drop in cocaine related deaths in 2009 that it has been noted coincided with the mephedrone boom .
Drugs are being “chemically masked” in order to pass border control undetected. The added health risks of this measure are severe. The EMCDDA report notes that this has now been broadly observed in the Amphetamine market but fails to give details or investigate the health risks. It has been noted by the USDEA that the worming agent “Levamisole” (a word not mentioned in the EMCDDA report) has been discovered in the majority of cocaine imported in to the US. This is worrying for a number of reasons:
1.) Levamisole causes “agranulocytosis.. a catastrophic crash in a person’s immune system, which can turn a zit, a scratch, or even the bacteria that normally live in and around your body into a life-threatening infection”. In clinical trials levamisole caused 10% of people to develop agranulocytosis. Recently doctors have noticed a rapid rise in cases of agranulocytosis in cocaine users.
2.) Levamisole is very expensive with little to offer in terms of effect (it has been suggested that it may be a potentiating agent but this has not been tested). This indicates how motivated the prohibition is making drug producers to cut their goods with substances that no matter how dangerous are included because they pass traditional chemical testing used by dealers and customers.
3.) Levamisole is being found in the majority of cocaine shipments caught at the point of import to the US. This suggests that cocaine is now being routinely cut at source rather than just by petty dealers. One such find was a magazine where the pages were coated in a “plastic laminate that was 21.5 percent cocaine, cut with levamisole”.
Every single country responding with information spent more on policing than harm reduction or medical interventions.
“‘Expenditure for justice, police, customs and prisons were the items most frequently reported.”
EMCDDA Annual Report (2011)
The recession has seemingly had an impact however:
“In 2011, for the first time in a decade, public expenditure (excluding interest payments) in the European Union will fall in real terms.”
EMCDDA Annual Report (2011)
Technically UN members are legally bound to criminalisation:
“The 1988 UN Convention against illicit trafficof drugs, Article 3(2), requires each state to establish possession of drugs for personal use as a criminal offence,subject to its constitutional principles and the basic concepts of its legal system.”
EMCDDA Annual Report (2011)
“In the last 10 years, 15 European countries have made changes to their penalties for possession of small amountsof drugs.”
EMCDDA Annual Report (2011)
Portugal: Decriminalised possession of all drugs for personal use, prioritising health solutions over punitive sanctions.
Luxembourg: Reduced sanctions of first offence use of cannabis to a fine. Maximum penalties for personal possessionof all drugs other than cannabis were reduced from three years in prison to six months.
Belgium: Reduced sanction for cannabis posession from up to five years in prison to a fine.
Estonia: Reduced second offence of possession of any drug from up to three years in prison to a fine or up to thirty days “administrative detention”(i.e. imprisonment without trial, so ups and downs).
Slovenia: Decriminalised possession of all drugs. The maximum penalty was reduced from 30 days in prison, or five days for a small quantity, to a fine.
Romania, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic: reduced sentences for cannabis and/or other “soft” drugs.
Finland: Reduced minor posession sanctions from two years to six months in prison.
Greece: Reduced minor posession sanctions for non-addicted users from two years to six months with no criminal record based on no re-offending.
Slovakia: Widened the limit for posession from one dose to three doses but introduced penalties of home imprisonment and community service.
Countries to increase sanctions were Italy who removed sentencing distinctions between different drugs and and the UK who moved cannabis from class B to C and then back again to B (despite the vocal objections of their own advisory council on drugs and the resignation of the leader of the committee Professor Nutt). Denmark changed the sanction for minor offences from a warning to a fine. France included an adittional sanction of an awareness cause to be paid for by the offender.
Cannabis remains the most popular drug in almost all European countries based upon police reports where it accounts for 50-75% of offences. In the Czech republic and Latvia Crystal Meth is most commonly reported by police and in Malta cocaine is most commonly reported by police (but this may be because softer drugs are ignored by officers).
As a result of prohibition prisons have become a breeding ground for initiation in to hard drugs (and needle sharing) with heroin and cocaine being the most used drugs in prisons after cannabis. A study in Belgium suggests a third of drug using prisoners were initiated in to using a new drug (most commonly heroin) inside prison (Todts et al., 2009). There is also significantly more needle sharing in prisons by injecting drug users leading to spread of disease including HIV. Worryingly, data is “unavailable” from countries with the highest rates of HIV with the only countries reporting data being Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Spain, Hungary, Malta, Finland, Sweden and Croatia.
The european monitoring centre for drugs and drug addiction (2011). The state of the drugs problem in Europe Annual Report.
Todts, S., Gilbert, P., Malderen, V. S., Huyck, V. C., Saliez, V.
and Hogge, M. (2009), Usage de drogues dans les prisons
belges: monitoring des risques sanitaires, Service Public Fédéral
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