Drug market becoming increasingly online

The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drugs Addiction (EMCDDA), based in Lisbon, Portugal, has published its third market report on drugs in Europe. The market is growing rapidly and online.

Cannabis is the most widely used drug in Europe. Approximately 25 million consumers use this drug. This corresponds to an estimated market value of around €12 billion. A significant part of the drug is produced within Europe. Spain remains the main gateway for imported cannabis into the EU. Libya is the hub within the Mediterranean region. Cocaine means the second largest drug market in Europe. The estimated market volume here is over €9 billion. The number of cocaine addicts is estimated at around 4 million. Colombian and Italian organised crime groups used to dominate the market here, but now a whole range of other nationalities are involved. These include British, Dutch, French, Moroccans, Serbians, Spaniards and Turks. Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain are and will remain the main gateway for this drug. Heroin and other opioids have a market volume of at least €7.4 billion in Europe. Opium production mostly takes place in Afghanistan, smuggled via Turkey into Europe. Compared to the classic drugs, the market for synthetic drugs is growing rapidly. The market for new and psychoactive substances is also growing. These drugs are either produced within Europe or, as a by-product of medicines production, coming largely from China and India. The total volume of the drug market in Europe is estimated to be at least €30 billion.

Drugs and terrorism

Drug trafficking has strong security implications. Organised crime groups not only trade drugs but also other goods. There is also a connection with terrorism. However, this link is not systematic. It is rather a pragmatic form of fundraising. “It has been estimated that drug-related income makes up more than a quarter of the finances of seven major terrorist groups”, as the report states. 

Drug market increasingly dynamic

Despite all efforts, the drug market is not on the retreat. On the contrary! It is growing rapidly and dynamically. It is conspicuous that dealers use the new technological possibilities in the same way as the legal market participants in Europe. New technologies and market liberalisation are giving criminal networks advantages. These are virtually more benefitting than legal market participants and states. The dismantling of trade barriers helps drug traffickers even more than others. Increasing online trading also reduces the risks of trading for criminals. BigData is also a field of activity. The “Dark Net” as well as the “Surface Web” and social media such as facebook, Twitter, etc. help to locate customers and to sell goods. New payment services are also of benefit for criminals. This cyber-development brings up completely new alliances between those ones who have programming and social media skills and classic drug dealers. Especially with synthetic drugs, there are lateral entrants into the drug market who originally came from the pharmaceutical sector. The trend towards more online trade in the drug market is accompanied by the increased use of parcel deliveries. It is estimated that parcel delivery in this area will increase by almost 70% by 2021. Online technologies are changing the market as a whole. In the past, it was all about getting to know your customers personally. This direct contact is no longer necessary. It is no longer necessary to actually know the customer, but merely to know the way to him or the marketplace where the customer and the retailer meet and take action together. 

Public-private partnership urgently needed

As dynamic as the market, so must the be the countermeasures. The recommendations of the report range from anti-terrorism measures, curbing human trafficking, intensifying the fight against money laundering and corruption in seaports to prioritising the Darkweb team and Europol’s Cyber-Patrol. And indeed, the law enforcement agencies of the European Union, Canada and the United States are working more closely together. But the investigating authorities alone are powerless. It is important to network more closely with civil society and private companies. Only via such kind of collaboration the knowledge of online traders can be used to take action against drug trafficking and other forms of crime. But this remains a problem, so. As long as regulatory framework and enforcement measures are weak, online traders and logistics suppliers tend to turn a blind eye on those markets which bring profits but are crime and endanger society in manyfold ways. 

The report can be downloaded here:

The EU Internet Forum: Civil Society Empowerment Programme