How the UK cannabis market has changed as use drops steadily since 2002

Professor Steve Pudney describes the changing nature of the drug market in the UK in an article for The Conversation.

“The celebrated Oxford-educated cannabis smuggler, Howard Marks – aka “Mr Nice” – is no longer with us. He devoted his early career to international cannabis trafficking (mainly into the US), which eventually brought him a 25-year prison sentence and then later success as an author and raconteur.

But, at least as far as the UK is concerned, Mr Nice represents the past. Since his enforced retirement from trafficking, there have been big changes in the UK cannabis market.

Before the millennium, there was a slowly expanding British market for traditional, low-potency, imported cannabis resin and herb, often originating in south-east Asia and imported through the Netherlands. All that has changed in the past 15 years. Surveys suggest that cannabis use has declined steadily since 2002 and is currently around 40% below its peak.

The nature of the product has changed, too. Evidence from chemical analysis of seized samples suggests that around ten years ago there was a large increase in the market share of high-potency sinsemilla, with the average content of the main psycho-active component D9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) approximately doubling from 6% to 12% between 2002 and 2008 in samples tested by the Forensic Science Service.

Most striking is the change in production and supply of cannabis to the UK market. The supply side of the drug market is much more difficult to observe statistically than the demand side. Drug users in the general population can be located by random sampling and many are willing to report their drug use in properly anonymised surveys.

But drug dealers are fewer in number, harder to locate and much less willing to answer questions. Most of our information about supply comes as a by-product of enforcement action and may therefore tell us as much about police priorities as about suppliers’ behaviour. Nevertheless, a striking picture emerges from published data on seizures – a move away from imports in favour of UK production.”

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