Navigation path

Left navigation

Additional tools

Other available languages: FR DE

MEMO/09/103

Brussels, 10 March 2009

Commission report: World Drugs Problem, ten years on.

Today the European Commission launched a report on developments in the world's illicit drugs Markets since 1998. It shows that in the past decade drug policies across the world did change, especially at the national level as efforts to help drug users have been stepped up and tougher policies were adopted against drug traffickers.

Background of the study

This study has been commissioned by the Directorate-General for Justice, Freedom and Security of the European Commission. The study was contracted out to a consortium of the Trimbos Institute (Netherlands Institute of Mental Health and Addiction) and RAND Europe, a renowned drug-policy research organisation with its roots in the United States. The study was developed in the past 12 months and reflects a comprehensive analysis of available information and data in 18 countries across the globe. These countries are Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, the Czech Republic, Hungary, India, Mexico, the Netherlands, Portugal, the Russian Federation, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom and the United States. Specific sections in the report also include a broader range of (EU) countries.

UNGASS review process

In 1998 the UN, at a special session of the General Assembly, issued a declaration and action plans aimed at rolling back drug abuse and trafficking world-wide (UNGASS 98). In 2006, the UN's Commission on Narcotic Drugs, in order to determine to what extent UNGASS 98 had achieved its goals, adopted an EU Resolution calling for "(...) an objective, scientific, balanced and transparent assessment by Member States of the global progress achieved and of the difficulties encountered in meeting the goals and targets set by the General Assembly at its twentieth special session (..)'.

In 2007, the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) presented its assessment report of the implementation of the UNGASS declaration and Action Plans. These findings have been discussed by Member States throughout 2008. Several other stakeholders in the field of drug policy presented their assessments of the progress made in the period 1998-2007, among which a broad representation of Civil Society and non-governmental organisations, brought together in the initiative 'Beyond 2008'.

The EU is aware of the fact that what is possible at its own regional level in terms of policy analysis is not necessarily within the reach of the UN or many of its member states. For this reason the European Commission provided the finance for the expert working groups convened by the Commission on Narcotic Drugs to prepare the assessment process. It is also with this in mind that the Commission had the present study carried out: to provide an dispassionate overview of the nature and extent of the problem today, and to assist policy makers at national and regional levels to deal with it.

Specific findings of the study

  1. The study has found no evidence that the global drug problem was reduced during the UNGASS period from 1998 to 2007. For some nations the problem declined but for others it worsened and for some of those it worsened sharply and substantially. The drug problem generally lessened in rich countries and worsened in a few large developing or transitional countries.
  2. Production of opium was relatively stable until 2006, after which estimates show a large increase in Afghanistan. There is no evidence in the world of unusual price declines or increases in consumption.
  3. The global number of users of cocaine and heroin expanded over the period. In most Western countries the number of frequent users of heroin has declined through most of the last ten years, while a serious epidemic of opiate use occurred in some countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The total number of cannabis users worldwide has probably declined (see table 1).

Table 1: Prevalence of past year and lifetime marijuana use, among younger age groups, in 8 countries ca. 2004 (details in sub-report 4)

Country
(age range)
Lifetime
use
Last Year
use
France (15-34)
43.6
16.7
UK (15-34)
41.4
16.3
Netherlands (15-34)
32.3
9.5
USA (26-34)
56.7
19.9
Canada (25-34)
56.8
18.0
Australia (20-29)
54.5
26.0
Sweden (15-34)
19.1
4.8
New Zealand (25-34)
62.0
18.0
  1. Cannabis use has become part of adolescent development in many Western countries. For example in Australia, Switzerland and the United States about half of everyone born since 1980 will have tried the drug by age 21.
  2. The markets for illegal drugs are mostly competitive, not vertically integrated or dominated by major dealers or cartels. The ties to terrorism and armed insurrection are important but only in a few places, such as Afghanistan and Colombia.
  3. For cocaine and heroin the cost of production and refining in the source countries is only one to two per cent of retail price in developing or transitional countries. The same is true for ATS manufacturers in rich countries. Only cannabis growers in rich countries receive a substantially larger share of the retail price. Trafficking across national boundaries accounts for perhaps 10 percent of the retail price of heroin and cocaine. The vast majority of costs for distribution are accounted for by payments to retailers and low level wholesalers in the consumer country.
  4. Though illicit drug markets generate more than one hundred billion Euros in sales, the overwhelming majority of those involved in the drug trade make very modest incomes. Only a few individuals in the trafficking, smuggling and wholesale sector make great fortunes but that accounts for a small share of the total income.
  5. The study concludes that the total revenues generated by illicit drug sales are smaller than the approximately €285 Billion a year calculated by UNODC in 2002/2003. The study estimates an approximate range for the total global cannabis retail market in 2005 between €40 Billion and €120 Billion, with the best estimate being about half of the UNODC’s €125 Billion estimate (these values are in €2005).

Estimating the size of the retail market is very difficult due to lacking data on drug consumption and quantities consumed by different drug users. Likewise, information on prices and purity is often not available. Therefore, global estimates of the drug retail market could not be produced in this study. Table 2 provides an overview of the estimated retail market for cannabis for the three regions believed to account for the vast majority of cannabis expenditures throughout the world. It is important to mention that exact numbers are difficult to produce. Therefore ranges are provided.

Table 2: Estimates of the size of the retail cannabis market (details in sub-report 2).



UNODC
circa 2003
RAND
Low
RAND
Best
RAND
High
North America
Expenditures (Billions)
€56.6
€7.8
€17.3
€36.1

Metric Tons Consumed
6,034
1,609
3,600
7,492
Oceania
Expenditures (Billions)
€5.5
€1.4
€3.1
€6.5

Metric Tons Consumed
684
118.9
266.1
553.6
West/Central Europe
Expenditures (Billions)
€35.2
€6.1
€13.5
€28.5

Metric Tons Consumed
6,051
1,165
2,607
5,424
  1. Drug retail prices have generally declined in Western countries, including those that increased the stringency of their enforcement against sellers, such as the U.K. and the U.S.A. The study concludes that the declines in heroin and cocaine prices in these major markets have been large enough that total revenues are probably smaller in 2007 that in 1998. There are no indications that drugs have become more difficult to obtain. With the exception of one or two production and trafficking countries, the drug trade forms no major part of the national GDP.

Table 3: Some estimates of the size of the retail market for cannabis and heroin in some countries (note: the best estimate is provided for cannabis and estimates for heroin assume an average purity of 40% (details in sub-report 2).

Country
Cannabis


Heroin
(40% purity)


Quantity
consumed
(x 1000 Kg)
Retail value[1]
(in €2005 Millions)
Size
of GDP
Retail value
(in €2005 Millions)
Size
of GDP
Austria
43.7
€ 199.0
0.08%
€ 152.4
0.06%
Belgium
40.9
€ 241.3
0.08%
€ 55.0
0.02%
Czech Republic
67.9
€ 469.8
0.45%
€ 42.9
0.04%
France
398.7
€ 2,232.5
0.12%
€ 576.5
0.03%
Germany
322.0
€ 2.182.2
0.09%
€ 491.0
0.02%
Italy
461.0
€ 2,995.7
0.20%
€ 1,623.0
0.11%
Netherlands
73.3
€ 386.9
0.07%
€ 78.6
0.01%
Spain
461.0
€ 1,599.6
0.17%
€ 360.3
0.04%
UK
450.4
€ 1,514.8
0.08%
€ 2,303.4
0.12%
Canada
410.3
€ 2769.4
0.29%
€ 497.2
0.04%
USA
2,947.8
€ 14,208.0
0.14%
€ 7,476.8
0.06%
Australia
221.2
€ 2,783.2.6
0.47%
N.A.
N.A.
  1. Interventions against production have an effectt where drugs are produced, such as the changing location of coca growing within the Andean region which is plausibly related to the actions of the governments of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru to control the problem. However, there is a lack of evidence that controls can reduce total global production. The same applies to trafficking.
  2. In general there is evidence of convergence of national drug policies. Demand reduction receives increasing emphasis. Harm reduction, still controversial in some countries, is finding wider acceptance. Some countries for whom tough enforcement had been absolutely central now accept measures such as substitution treatment as an important instrument for reducing heroin related problems. Policies towards sellers and traffickers have toughened.

Table 4: drug-law offences for use/possession and dealing/trafficking in 1998 and 2005 (details in sub-report 4)


1998
2005
Expert judgement
2005
Use & possession for use
2005 Dealing & trafficking
Czech Republic
1,530
2,128

7.8%
92.2%
Hungary
6,670
7,616

91.7%
8.3%
India


Prosecutions / convictions nearly doubled since 2002


Netherlands
12,616
20,548

30.9%
68.8%
Portugal
11,395
11,825

52.9%
47.1%
Sweden
11,490
18,844

86.1%
13.9%
Russian Federation


Reported increase of drug-law offences


South Africa


Reported strong increase of drug-law offences


Switzerland
63,2201
56,3421
(2006)

83%
(2006)
15%2
(2006)
Turkey
8,360
(2002)
13,229

48.0%
52.0%
United Kingdom
130,643
122,459
(2004)
Drug-law offences rising till 1998
86.4%
13.6%

1. Drug use offences, including cases linked with dealing and/or trafficking

2. 2% for ‘unknown offences’

  1. Enforcement of drug prohibitions has caused substantial unintended harms; many were predictable, e.g. geographical displacement of production and/ or trafficking and needle sharing – with the risk of spreading infectious diseases - as a result of not making needle & syringe exchange facilities available.
  2. A major limitation for the description of problems and policies regarding the world drug problem, as well as for the assessment of the effectiveness of policies, is the weakness of existing and lack of availability of relevant data.

[1] Best estimate. See report 2.


Side Bar