Today, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released its 2017 World Drug Report, stating: “Cannabis production remains a global phenomenon!”
The report is divided into two categories of plant-based drugs: the flowering tops of the cannabis plant, AKA “cannabis,” and the condensed hashish oil, referred to as “resin.” Global cannabis users have reached a median of 183 million people, roughly 3.8 percent of the global population.
According to the report, cannabis plant cultivation was present in 135 countries, between 2010 – 2015, covering 92 percent of the world population. Given the absence of systematic measurements, however, the extent and trends in cannabis cultivation and production are difficult to assess. Most indirect indicators come from law enforcement authorities and, to a certain extent, reflect their priorities and resources.
The United Nations includes 193 “Member States,” among the countries of the world, and the report is compiled by data offered them.
More than 164 member states reported cannabis seizures in 2017. Based on quantities intercepted over the period of 2010 – 2015, quantities of herbal cannabis seized were more than four times those of cannabis resin, with some 6,000 tons of cannabis herb and 1,300 tons of cannabis resin intercepted and seized annually.
When questioned about the transparency and accuracy of member states’ disclosures, Chloé Carpentier, chief of the Drug Section at the UNODC, stated that the UNODC independently vets and validates the information they provide, by cross-referencing the dates of the seizures, as well as cross checking data from independent reports.
“If the numbers are drastically different, we dig deeper; for example, if the data is outside the normal range, if there is an exceptional increase or decrease, we verify it,” explained Carpentier.
According to the report, Morocco remains the country most reported by Member States as the source of cannabis resin (hashish), followed by Afghanistan and to a lesser extent, Lebanon, India and Pakistan.
In contrast to trafficking in cannabis resin, trafficking in cannabis herb continues to be largely intra-regional, notably, trafficking from North Africa to Europe. (It is relatively easy to import a personal amount of hashish from Morocco to Portugal, on a day cruise.)
In addition to ongoing direct shipments of cannabis resin from Morocco to Spain, and subsequent shipments to France, Italy and the Netherlands, for further distribution to other European countries, Europol reported an emerging trafficking route from Morocco to Libya, and then on to Italy. Although both UNODC and Europol data estimate that most of the cannabis resin found in Europe continues to originate in Morocco, it seems that Afghan cannabis resin is also trafficked to Europe, often using Albania as a first distribution hub.
In 2015, the largest cannabis herb seizures worldwide were reported by Mexico, followed by the United States, Nigeria, Paraguay and Egypt. The largest cannabis resin seizures were reported by Spain, Pakistan and Morocco, followed by Afghanistan, Algeria and Iran.
Cannabis resin produced in Lebanon supplies markets in other countries in the Near and Middle East, most notably the Syrian Arab Republic, Jordan and Israel, as well as markets in Egypt, Cyprus and Turkey. It is unclear what effect the civil war in Syria has had on trafficking.
Drug Trafficking and Terrorism
Some terrorist groups depend on drug profits for financing.
In Sierra Leone, the insurgent group, Revolutionary United Front’s direct connection to the illicit drug trade, from 1991 to 2002, financed some of their takeover operations and the recruitment of child soldiers. Cannabis growers were given blanket immunity from the hostilities.
In Afghanistan, up to 85 percent of opium cultivation occurs in territory under some influence of the Taliban. The Taliban traffics in, and taxes traffickers of, opium and heroin. Without the proceeds of drug production and trafficking, which make up almost half the Taliban’s annual income, the reach and impact of the Taliban would probably not be what it is today.
In North Africa, there is also a link between cannabis trafficking and terrorism, by the Islamic AQIM, or Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; however, taxing and protecting cannabis/resin traffickers is a modest source of income. It is not their main illicit activity, but one among several.
In Colombia, organized crime is primarily responsible for trafficking cocaine, which allows much of their marijuana trafficking to slip through the cracks in law enforcement operations.
According to an EU report, there has been an increase in organized crime groups dealing with trafficking in both humans, and hard drugs.
There is little data in the report to support how drugs are mostly trafficked; however, shipping containers are a widely used method. There are thousands of shipping containers at each port, and it is impossible to inspect all of them.
Legalization vs. Trafficking
Cannabis use continues to increase in North America, most prominently in the United States—up by 11.6 more users than a decade ago. Daily, or near-daily, cannabis use among adults (aged 26 to 54 years) grew by 67 percent.
By contrast, cannabis use in England and Wales has significantly declined over the past two decades. Although the number of users has remained steady, people are simply smoking less often.
This dramatic increase of recreational usage in the U.S. may be attributed to the fact that marijuana is now legal in some form in 29 states.
Subsequently, this has facilitated a surge of data, and while there is a reported increase of usage in adults, there is not a similar increase among seniors or youngsters.
As far as how recent pioneering legalization of recreational use of marijuana has affected the report’s findings, it is too soon to tell.
According to Carpentier: “We still need some time to be able to fully evaluate the impact of the new policies legalizing the production and use of recreational cannabis, in terms of health, security, the criminal justice system, or even the impact on neighboring jurisdictions. We will also have to look at the market dynamics, to see how demand is met by legal supply, and whether growers outside the legal system persist.”
Overall, the increasing trend in cannabis use is considered to be associated with provisions of medical cannabis—with the evidence suggesting an overall reciprocal relationship between social attitudes and cannabis use patterns.
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