Marijuana is on the rise, and it’s getting stronger. But cocaine is on the decline.
Those are the conclusions of a report issued in June by the United Nations. The study, which compared cannabis use statistics with previous years, found that demand for the drug has increased, especially in the United States.
Four U.S. states have legalized marijuana for any adult use, while another 33 states have adopted some form of medical cannabis law. Legalization is expected to continue its spread, making the United States a leader in reform.
Global illicit substance use remains steady
Overall, the World Drugs Report from the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime found that use of illicit substances has remained stable around the globe. But there have been dramatic spikes and drops for certain drugs in certain places.
In Afghanistan, for example, opium is a leading commodity and is widely available. While most of this product is shipped around the world, some makes its way into local Afghan communities, and the problem is getting worse.
“It is estimated that almost a quarter billion people between the ages of 15 and 64 years used an illicit drug in 2013,” according to the report.
Marijuana remains illegal in most parts of the world. It is fully legal by statute only in Uruguay, but it is decriminalized and widely tolerated in a handful of other countries, most in Europe.
Cocaine production has fallen
The best news from the U.N. shows cocaine production has dropped substantially, especially in South America, where the coca plant is native and widely grown.
Global cocaine production dropped 10 percent between 2012 and 2013, the report found. Police seizures of the drug dropped by 9 percent between 2008 and 2013.
Cannabis, on the other hand, is booming almost everywhere. The U.N. credits this not only to increasing reform but also to “rapid advancement in cannabis plant cultivation techniques.”
Marijuana cultivation driving agricultural revolution
Those developments are having an impact not only on marijuana cultivation but on agriculture generally. Techniques used to grow high-quality cannabis could ultimately revolutionize farming.
As a result of those changes, marijuana is growing ever more potent, according to the study. The average THC concentration in cannabis increased from 3.4 percent in 1993 to 8.8 percent in 2008.
Of course, marijuana users have long had access to a much more potent product. Award-winning strains today can reach 30 percent THC, but they are merely genetic descendants of high-potency strains once popular in the 20th century.
What’s more, there is no evidence that greater potency has led to increased public health concerns, aside from a possible but negligible uptick in addiction rates.
The rapid change in the drug-trafficking landscape – legalization, decriminalization, medical marijuana, reduced cocaine production – have all hit cartels hard. the report said. Mexican drug lords have increasingly turned to heroin, driving a surge in opiate addictions, because their other options are dwindling.
“They will lose a lot of money because of law enforcement,” said Carl Meacham of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. “But it is still lucrative enough for them to do this business.”