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Which Country Leads Europe in Cannabis Consumption?

On average, 24.8 percent of all Europeans between 15 and 64 have used cannabis at least once, according to the latest European Drug Report, making it the most commonly used illicit drug in Europe. By country, France, Denmark, and Italy have the highest prevalence of use. 

The annual report was published on May 31 by the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA), an EU agency based in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. This year, the group made a short video summarizing the report’s main trends. Cannabis accounts for the largest share — 38 percent — of Europe's illicit drug market, the EMCDDA found. Herb and resin potency levels are “historically high” and “responding to cannabis remains a key challenge for European drug policies.”

It's always fun to have a ranking, so let's transform the data into a top-15 list. Below are the proportions of national residents, ages 15 to 64, who’ve ever consumed cannabis, according to the new EMCDDA figures:

  • France: 40.9%
  • Denmark: 35.6%
  • Italy: 31.9%
  • Spain: 30.4%
  • United Kingdom: 29.2%
  • Czech Republic: 28.7%
  • Ireland: 25.3%
  • The Netherlands: 24.1%
  • Germany: 23.1%
  • Norway: 21.9%
  • Finland: 21.7%
  • Poland: 16.2%
  • Slovenia: 15.8%
  • Croatia: 15.6%
  • Belgium: 15%

These statistics should be taken with a few pinches of salt. Some of the surveys and research used by the EMCDDA to construct the report are quite old, and the different countries use different survey methods. More importantly, because cannabis is still illegal, it's extra hard to get reliable results. It also seems strange to draw the age-group line at 64 years, especially given the many seniors now enjoying cannabis. Still, the list gives a reasonable indication of relative use among countries and offers a few key takeaways. 

Take the 24.1-percent figure from the Netherlands, for example. Even though cannabis is freely available to adults at nearly 600 coffeeshops throughout the country, Dutch cannabis use is lower than the European average of 24.8 percent. (Take that, Bill O'Reilly!) 

France’s top spot is also interesting, as it suggests that repressive policies do not necessarily lead to lower use. In some cases they may, however; Sweden boasts probably the most repressive cannabis policy in Europe and has a low user rate, 14.4 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, Spain shows that liberal policies can coincide with high prevalence: 30.4 percent of Spaniards have tried cannabis at least once.

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The truth, however painful it may be for politicians to confront, is that drug policy may have only a slight effect on the number of people who use drugs. That number is also influenced by factors such as the age structure of the population, the degree of urbanization, cultural and regional traditions, and international trends. 

Drug policy does, of course, have a big effect on the way drugs in general — and cannabis in particular — are produced and distributed. Prohibitive and repressive policies tend to lead to more crime and violence, increased profits, more corruption, contamination of the product, and unsafe conditions during cultivation and production. 

All of which reinforces the 2016 European Drug Report’s key claim: “responding to cannabis remains a key challenge for European drug policies”. 

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