For the first time, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is recommending a global ban on cannabis advertising.
Broadly, the Office’s World Drug Report 2021, released Thursday, put an unprecedented emphasis on cannabis trends, as jurisdictions across the globe move toward reform. Mexico looks poised to become the latest country to end its cannabis prohibition, joining Canada and Uruguay. And in the United States, there are now 19 states (and D.C.) with legal adult use.
The annual report looks at supply and demand trends for various substances across the globe each year, and recently began to look at “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on drug market dynamics,” too.
“One of the main analyses that we have done this year is to understand how young people perceive cannabis and compare it with the evolution of the cannabis product over the years,” Angela Me, the chief of the Office’s Research & Trends Analysis Branch, said at the start of a report launch event in Vienna, Austria, on Thursday morning.
Cannabis today has higher percentages of THC, the report notes, which has risen sharply over the last 24 years. In the US, for example, the average THC level in cannabis flower rose from 4% in 1995 to 16% in 2019, while youth perceptions of the harms of regular cannabis consumption declined by 40%. (It’s worth noting that the first medical cannabis law was passed in California in 1996 and, since then, the legal market has both expanded and matured; products today come in varying forms and cannabinoid ratios.)
Also, 42% of health professionals surveyed from 77 countries said that they believed cannabis consumption increased during the pandemic.
These findings, Me said, shows “the need to disseminate factual information about cannabis without stigmatizing drug users or cannabis users” so that “particularly young people can make decisions based on scientific and authoritative information.”
Among the “possible responses” to these cannabis trends, the report suggests the prioritization of “public health over private business through a comprehensive ban on advertising.” (In the U.S., where cannabis is legal, there are limits on cannabis advertising, but states have not taken a uniform approach.) It also suggests increased “investment in research both into the harm cannabis use poses to health and the possible medical uses of the drug.”
The report emphasizes that, in messaging, distinctions should be made “among the effective medical uses of cannabis products for some ailments, the use of cannabis products such as CBD in the so-called wellness industry and the consequences of the non-medical use of cannabis.”
Further, the ban on “advertising, promoting and sponsoring cannabis” would “need to apply across all jurisdictions” and “could work in a way similar to the provisions of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.”
The report also looked at the sale of substances on the darknet, and found that “cannabis dominates darknet sales.” The second largest darknet market is called Cannazon, and it is also the largest darknet cannabis market.
Also, cannabis seizures are on the rise everywhere but in North America, where the report found “dramatic declines” that are “partly linked to legalization of non-medical cannabis in some jurisdictions.”
And finally, when it comes to the increase in cannabis use during the pandemic, the report notes that “COVID-19 may have accelerated the pre-existing trends towards increased use and availability of cannabis in some high-income countries as some people have turned to the drug to alleviate stress or manage boredom brought on by stay-at-home orders.”
This trend, the report notes, became a business opportunity for “both criminals and commercial operators.”
“Indeed,” it continues, “large, multi-billion-dollar businesses, which have a private interest in the expansion of the cannabis use market, are moving into the market in the jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalized.”