Of all the illicit drugs, cannabis is the one with which we are collectively most familiar. This is perhaps not surprising. It has a long history, with the earliest evidence of cannabis use by humans stemming from the Neolithic period. The cannabis leaf itself has at times been a symbol of youthful rebellion, and no other illicit drug has become so closely associated in the public imagination with some of the social changes that Europe has seen in the last half-century. References to cannabis use appear regularly across popular culture, and it is also the substance over which public and political sentiment is most conflicted. Today, cannabis is the most widely consumed illicit drug in Europe and the world. Estimates suggest that at some time during each year at least 22 million Europeans will use this drug. This use is not without cost, as illustrated by the fact that those with cannabis-related problems now represent a sizeable proportion of those receiving help from drug services in many countries. In parts of Europe, cannabis consumption is both visible and difficult to ignore. Yet despite all this familiarity, and the self-evident fact that a highly developed industry must exist to support current consumption levels, the cannabis market in Europe remains to a large extent an obscure and unexplored topic.

That we know so little about this market is surprising. The drug has been well studied, and we know in some detail about current patterns of use. It is a reality of modern life that wherever you live in Europe today, it is likely that not very far from where you are, cannabis is being bought and sold. You may or may not be aware of this fact, but in either case you are unlikely to be surprised by it. But what you are unlikely to be aware of is how the drug got there or what form it takes.

In this detailed assessment, EMCDDA, for the first time, brings together the available evidence in this area to provide the reader with a comprehensive analysis of what is known about the production of and market for cannabis across the European Union. This is a broad topic, and you will find it makes for some detailed, diverse and, I hope also, engrossing reading. To accomplish our task we must embark on a journey that spans not only the continents, as we look at how cannabis is grown, prepared and trafficked, but also topics as diverse as botany and plant genetics, the economics of cannabis distribution and the role of organised crime. This is the first time such a breadth of information has been brought together in one publication on this topic, and it provides an invaluable resource for understanding the dynamic market for this drug in Europe. The analysis is also timely, as some of the major developments that we chart are worrying ones.

Europe has become not only a major consumer of this drug, but also an important producing area. The consequences of this in terms of crime and public health are now becoming more visible, and in both areas they raise the concern that the future costs associated with the European cannabis market may be greater than the historical ones.

Keep up-to-date with drug policy developments by subscribing to the IDPC Monthly Alert.