The European Union's illicit drugs market is changing - and the rate of change is being accelerated by globalization and technology. In its 2016 EU Drug Markets Report, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Monitoring (EMCDDA) suggests the market is also increasingly connected with organized crime groups (OCGs) and terrorism.
It is now common for organized crime groups involved in the drug market, write the report authors, "to engage in other forms of criminality."
The global economy and new technologies are playing their part. "Criminal groups are quick to identify and exploit [...] the Internet as a social and commercial medium," say the authors in a summary.
They go on to say: "Innovation in synthetic drug production and changes in cannabis cultivation have resulted in greater opportunities for drugs to be produced nearer to consumer markets in the EU."
The EU's best sellers
For those EU citizens who use illicit drugs, cannabis is their drug of choice. The report says cannabis holds around 38 percent of the "retail market," with annual trade worth up to 12.9 billion euros (it averages at about 9.3 billion).
About 22 million adults in the EU said they had used cannabis in the past year, and 1 percent said they used it almost daily.
"OCGs are heavily involved, making full use of technological innovations to produce larger quantities of more potent products," say the report authors.
Heroin is the second largest illicit drug market in the EU, with an estimated annual value of 6.8 billion euros. It is "responsible for a significant proportion of drug-related deaths and social costs."
The report authors say that "following a period of decline, there are recent signs of increasing availability."
In third place is cocaine, which snaps up a retail market value of about 5.7 billion euros. Colombian and Italian groups remain the main actors in providing cocaine, but "West African, especially Nigerian, groups are also active in transporting [it] from Africa to Europe and Balkan OCGs are emerging actors."
Synthetic stimulants, such as amphetamine, methamphetamine and MDMA/ecstasy come in at fourth place, with an estimated annual retail market of up to 2.5 billion euro.
Links with crime and terrorism
The report authors describe OCGs as "adaptable." They say "there are many ways in which drug markets and those involved in them interact with other areas of illegal activity."
The EMCDDA sees three types of interaction:
- When those involved in drug supply engage in other illicit trade, such as firearms or migrant smuggling;
- When drug supply is used as a means for "financing other criminal activities or terrorism" or to control or exploit people;
- When other criminal activity is "integral to the drug trafficking activity" - where trafficked people are coerced into to drug trafficking or production, where there is corruption, or money laundering.
The report authors note that terrorist groups may use drug trafficking to fund their other activities. "Often recently radicalized young people may have a history of low-level criminality," the authors say, "including drug use or involvement in the drug market, and [they may] exploit their criminal links to conduct their terrorist activities."
Aside from organized crime and terrorism, a wide-ranging list of "ramifications of illicit drug markets" includes drug-related deaths, violence, environmental damage, corruption of officials, and human exploitation.
You can read the full report on the EMCDDA's website.