A new report released by the World Health Organization (WHO) reveals that COVID-19 lockdowns have affected the cannabis trade by “increasing demand” for the substance. The report also shows the effects of legalization across various jurisdictions across North and South America.
Pandemic lockdown policies “increasing” demand for cannabis
According to The United Nations World Drug Report 2020 released this week, the Coronavirus pandemic led to social distancing policies and lockdown restrictions worldwide, which “seem to have resulted in increasing cannabis sales over the darknet.”
The report also finds that COVID-related restrictions particularly in Europe are “increasing demand for cannabis” in that part of the world. It cites a lack of “access to street dealers by end-users, may have led to an increase in drug trafficking activities over the darknet and drug shipment by mail in some places.”
Additionally, the report shows that cannabis is still the world’s most commonly consumed drug, with approximately 192 million consumers in 2018. According to the report, cannabis consumption “has risen” in most jurisdictions that have legalized recreational use of the substance such as Uruguay, Canada, and some parts of the U.S.
However, the report says the increase in consumption is not necessarily due to legalization, as “the same trend was observed in other jurisdictions where non-medical use of cannabis was not legalized.” It puts opioids as the second most commonly consumed drug worldwide, with 58 million consumers in 2018.
On the other hand, the WHO report finds that cannabis “is the drug that most brings people into contact with the criminal justice system.” Referring to data from 69 countries from 2014 to 2018, cannabis constituted “more than half of all drug law offences cases.”
Decline in cannabis seizures
The report further reveals that cannabis seizures declined significantly worldwide, of which legalization could be a factor.
“Global seizures of cannabis herb fell to their lowest level in two decades in 2018—a slump driven by declines in North America, where seizures have fallen by 84 per cent in the last 10 years…policies aimed at liberalizing cannabis markets have played a key role in the decline,” the report says.
Seizures most often occur in Mexico, United States, and Colombia, in that order. On the health side, the report warns:
Personal testimonies on the use of cannabis products to self-medicate and alleviate health conditions cannot be heeded in lieu of rigorous clinical trials on the effectiveness of cannabis in treating certain health conditions.
The report concludes by calling for improved “monitoring of public health, safety and criminal justice indicators” to understand the impact of legalization.