The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) issued its World Drug Report 2005 Wednesday. Among its most startling findings is that the global drug trade generates more than $320 billion a year in revenues, primarily from retail drug sales.
"The size of the world's illicit drug industry is thus equivalent to 0.9% of the world's Gross Domestic Product or higher than the GDP of 88% of the countries in the world," Carsten Hyttel, East African representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, told a Nairobi news conference.
"This is not a small enemy against which we struggle. It is a monster," said UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa in the annual report.
But Costa's "monster" constitutes 14% of global agricultural exports and represents the life blood for millions of low-income farmers around the planet. Between marijuana and hashish, the global cannabis market alone is valued at $142 billion, followed by cocaine at $71 billion, and opiates at $65 billion. As Scott Henson of the Grits for Breakfast blog noted, "That means, practically speaking, if the pipe dream of stopping the drug trade ever actually succeeded, much of the world economy from Bolivia to Afghanistan to Northern California would collapse into global depression."
The estimate on the global drug trade was a first for UNODC, according to the agency, which said it was necessary to understand its scope and breadth of influence. "Its 'companies' are not listed on the stock exchange, they are not valued by any private accounting firm, and the dynamics of the drug industry are not regularly pored over by analysts, economists, and forecasters," the report said.
According to UNODC estimates, more than two-thirds of the revenues, or $214 billion, came from retail drug sales, with North America alone tallying up around $100 billion annually to support its various drug habits. Europeans spent about $70 billion a year to get high, the report said.
In other highlights from the report:
* The number of people worldwide who used an illegal drug at least once last year was 200 million, or 5% of the adult population. Three out of four drug users, or 160 million people, were marijuana users, and that number is on the rise, UNODC reported. "All indicators -- production, seizures and consumption -- suggest that the market at the global level is expanding further. For the time being, there is no reason to believe that this expansion will stop."
* Cocaine cultivation in South American's Andes is once again on the increase, rising 2% over last year. While cocaine production remains well-below record levels recorded in the late 1990s, increases in production in Bolivia and Peru have offset decreases in Colombia, where the crop has been subject to a merciless aerial eradication campaign backed by the US. "This is a worrying loss of momentum" for Bolivia and Peru "and could eventually weaken the progress the region has made in controlling the cocaine supply."
* The world's heroin supply can almost be described in one word: Afghanistan. While UNODC optimistically wrote that "the situation looks slightly more positive for Afghanistan," the country currently supplies 87% of the world's opium, from which heroin is derived. Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle, once a leading center of poppy cultivation, is now almost opium-free and should be completely so by 2007, the UNODC said.
* The global romance with amphetamine-type stimulants is wearing off. Use of methamphetamine was down, thanks in part, UNODC noted, to the vicious repression in Thailand, while Ecstasy use is decreasing in the US.