Latest Report on European Cocaine Market: Volume is stable, trafficking routes continue to diversify

This week the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has released the European Drug Report (EDR) 2015. The report is the product of the established surveillance system that has evolved since 1995 and now incorporates data from 30 countries. The complexity involved in gathering, processing and analysing different information streams creates a time lag meaning that the report published this week covers the calendar year of 2013. The data suggests that cocaine flows are stabilizing, with 78,000 seizures reported in the European Union, amounting to 62.6 tonnes. This is well down from the peak values reached in 2006 and 2008. On the other hand the purity of cocaine has been increasing over recent years, while prices have remained stable.

The main entry points for cocaine are Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, France and Italy, which together account for 86% of seizures. There are also reports from the eastern Mediterranean, Baltic and Black Seas, suggesting that new routes are opening up, which in turn confound the estimates on overall inflow. The data on cocaine use suggest a strong underlying demand, with 3.4 million 15-64 years olds reporting use in the last year , and 15.6 million reporting use in their lifetime. The majority of these are young adults, with 2.3 million 15-35 reporting last year use.

Cannabis the dominant drug

Of the around one million drug seizures reported, 80% were cannabis. Attitudes towards cannabis vary across European countries. Consumption and retail are decriminalised in some countries and sentencing practices for supply offences vary with penalties for a first-time offence of supplying one kilogram of cannabis ranging from less than 1 year to 10 years in prison. All European countries are reporting rises in domestic production of herbal cannabis, and declining value of mainly imported cannabis resin (hashish) as a percentage of the seizures in decline.

It remains to be seen if a similar import substitution process will take place between cocaine and amphetamine or methamphetamine. Production of the latter appears to be concentrated in the Czech Republic, German and the Netherlands, and often done on small scale for individual use and small scale distribution. Demand is steady and the experience from the US suggests that there is a potential substitution effect in the market for illicit stimulants.