Marijuana remains popular throughout the world, according to the 2012 World Drug Report from the United Nations (UN).
Availability for consumers remains high and stable in North America and Africa, and availability also remains high in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. Marijuana remains hard to get in Eastern Europe, but availability is moderate and increasing in South-Eastern, Western and Central Europe. Overall availability in South Asia is rated moderate, but low in East and South-East Asia as well as in Central Asia and the Transcaucasia countries. Finally, Oceania has moderate and stable cannabis availability.
Cannabis is the least expensive in South Asia (20 cents a gram) and Africa (40 cents), according to the recent reported Purchasing power parity-adjusted retail price – indicating what an American dollar would buy in terms of comparable goods in the United States. Getting closer to home, the price of pot the UN reports for the rest of the Americas (excluding the US and Canada) is $3.70 a gram. For North America, though, marijuana remains relatively expensive at $13.80 a gram. Marijuana costs more in Western and Central Europe ($9.40 a gram), Eastern Europe ($16.70 a gram), and Oceania ($24.40 a gram).
When it comes to the issue of production, the UN reports that “Cannabis cultivation remains widespread in most regions, ranging from personal cultivation to large-scale farm and indoor warehouse operations, making it difficult to estimate the global levels of cannabis cultivation and production.” Marijuana is grown in almost every country in the world.
Seizures of cannabis by law enforcement were up over previous years in Europe and the Caribbean, but in the rest of the world seizures were down. As a result global cannabis seizures in 2012, the most recent year for data in the report, were 5,350 tons, a reduction from the 6,260 tons seized in 2011. Seizures in North America account for nearly two-thirds of all global seizures.
Seizures of cannabis resin (hashish) have been increasing, up to 1,269 tons in 2012 from 1,058 tons in 2011, mainly in Afghanistan and North Africa (primarily Algeria and Morocco). Spain accounts for 26% of global cannabis resin seizures.
According to the United Nations the United States has reported a major decrease in the number of eradicated outdoor sites for cannabis cultivation (6,470 in 2012 compared to 23,622 in 2011). While the US reported eradication of 3.6 million outdoor cannabis plants, it was not the world leader in this category. Italy eradicated 4.1 million outdoor cannabis plants in 2012, the most in the world. Other members of the million plant destruction club are Ukraine (2.2.million), Tajikistan (2.1 million) and the Philippines (1.2 million). Costa Rica eradicated 965,320 cannabis plants, putting it in sixth place in this world ranking.
Overall cannabis is being used by between 125 and 227 million people worldwide, which is 2.7 to 4.9% of the world population between the ages of 15 and 64. The highest levels of world use are thought to be in West and Central Africa, North America, and Oceania, with slightly less but significant usage in Western and Central Europe.
The United Nations report expresses concern that the perceived risk associated with marijuana use is falling and that this is behind increased use, and in their opinion, increased harm. Of special interest to the UN are the recent policy changes in Uruguay and the US states of Washington and Colorado that make marijuana legal. They are unsure how this will change the market in cannabis, but express concern over “motivated selling” in which “directed advertisements… promote and encourage consumption.” The UN recommends careful study of the impact of these reforms, especially in relation to the topics of “drug tourism, cross-border leakage and access and availability to youth in neighboring jurisdictions.” They predict that prices will fall under legalization and that this will lead to higher consumption. “It is estimated that for each 10 per cent drop in price, there will be an approximately 3% increase in the total number of users and a 3-5% increase in youth initiation.”
However the UN is also on the lookout to see if legalized cannabis has a “substitution” effect in which cannabis replaces the use of more harmful substances such as alcohol and heroin, noting such an outcome from decriminalization of marijuana in Portugal.
The United Nations is also taking an interest in the impact of legalization in Washington and Colorado, reporting that this has cost illegal drug cartels nearly $3 billion, representing a 20 to 30% cut in profits. Because drug cartels have diversified operations changes in a few US states “would not be enough to greatly diminish the market for Mexican cannabis.” However, “if prices dripped significantly nationwide as a result of spillover to other states, cartel revenue could be affected substantially in the long term.”