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Please note that the information on this page is based on the EMCDDA Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe. Most statistical data relate to the year 2008 (or the last year available).


Annual report 2010: the state of the drugs problem in Europe
Responding to drug problems — an overview

Published: 10 November 2010

Drug law enforcement and drug law offences

Drug law enforcement is an important component of national and EU drug policies and includes a wide range of interventions that are mainly implemented by police and police-like institutions (e.g. customs). Data on drug law enforcement activities are often less developed and accessible than those in other areas of drug policy. One notable exception is data on drug law offences, which are reviewed in this section. Also examined here are recent law enforcement measures to tackle commercial cannabis production and new developments in international collaboration in combating drug trafficking.

Drug law enforcement

In 2010, Europol opened an ‘analysis work file’ on cannabis (1). The project includes a component on cannabis cultivation, which is intended to enhance the sharing of intelligence within the European Union regarding the involvement of organised crime in cannabis production. This follows the reporting by the national law enforcement agencies of at least seven countries that criminal organisations were involved in commercial cannabis cultivation, an activity that apparently can be very lucrative (2).

It is difficult to estimate the scope of illicit cannabis cultivation in Europe, as very little data is available on the number of growers and on the size of plantations. Qualitative studies and seizure data (see 'Cannabis') suggest that domestic production might have increased substantially since the 1990s, especially in western Europe. Qualitative studies show that the motivations of growers range from cultivating a few plants for personal use to producing several thousand plants for commercial purposes.

Commercial cannabis cultivation, especially in large indoor plantations, has been reported to pose crime and public safety problems in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Criminal organisations in the United Kingdom are reported to exploit young illegal immigrants from Asia. Furthermore, the setting up of commercial plantations inside buildings often entails converting the premises, which may damage the property. A further risk to property and safety is related to the heavy consumption of electricity to provide artificial light to cannabis plants grown indoors. Unsafe methods to bypass electricity meters — to avoid payment or raising suspicion — or ill-adapted wiring systems are reported to have caused fires in indoor plantations.

Cannabis cultivation is addressed within existing law enforcement frameworks against drugs and organised crime, but some European countries have recently developed specific strategies in this area. Belgium has made combating illegal cannabis production a priority of its National Security Plan 2008–12, while the Netherlands and the United Kingdom have developed multifaceted strategies to increase the detection and destruction of commercial plantations. These strategies include measures such as raising awareness among the general population and some key sectors (e.g. electricity suppliers, hardware shops) to encourage them to report cannabis plantations to the police. In addition, partnerships are established between law enforcement and electricity suppliers, housing authorities, insurance companies and other sectors interested in fighting commercial plantations. Steps are also taken to improve police efficiency. In the Netherlands, for example, an ‘organised cannabis cultivation taskforce’ was established in July 2008 to coordinate existing efforts by police, local governments, magistrates and the tax office. Police forces can now be equipped with detection technology generally used by the military, including infra-red cameras for thermal imaging, and conduct larger operations to destroy plantations and arrest suspects, such as ‘Operation Mazurka’ in Northern Ireland, which resulted in 101 arrests in 2008.

Measures targeting cannabis cultivation have also been reported in other countries. For example, a major operation against ‘cannabis factories’ was conducted in 2008 in Ireland, while in Germany the federal criminal police (Bundeskriminalamt) set up a special unit to report on cannabis offences throughout the country.

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Drug law offences

Initial reports on drug law offences, mainly from the police, are the only data on drug-related crime routinely available in Europe (3). These data usually refer to offences related to drug use (use and possession for use) or drug supply (production, trafficking and dealing), although other types of offences may be reported (e.g. related to drug precursors) in some countries.

Data on drug law offences are a direct indicator of law enforcement activity, since they refer to consensual crimes which usually go unreported by potential victims. They are often viewed as indirect indicators of drug use and drug trafficking, although they include only those activities that have come to the attention of law enforcement. Additionally, they are also likely to reflect national differences in legislation, priorities and resources. Furthermore, national information systems differ across Europe, especially in relation to recording and reporting practices. For these reasons, it is difficult to make valid comparisons between countries, and it is more appropriate to compare trends rather than absolute numbers.

An EU index, based on data provided by 21 Member States that represent 85 % of the population aged 15–64 in the European Union, shows that the number of reported drug law offences increased by an estimated 35 % between 2003 and 2008. If all reporting countries are considered, the data reveal upward trends in 15 countries and a stabilisation or an overall decline in nine countries over the period (4).

Use- and supply-related offences

There has been no major shift in the balance between drug law offences related to use and those related to supply compared to previous years. In most (23) European countries, offences related to drug use or possession for use continued to comprise the majority of drug law offences in 2008, with Estonia, Spain, France, Austria, Slovenia and Sweden reporting the highest proportions (81–92 %). Offences related to supply are, however, predominant in the Czech Republic (87 %) (5).

Between 2003 and 2008, the number of drug law offences related to use increased in 19 reporting countries, with only Bulgaria, Germany, Greece, Austria and Slovenia reporting a decline across the period. Overall, the number of drug law offences related to use in the European Union increased by an estimated 37 % between 2003 and 2008 ('Figure 2: Trends in reports for drug-related offences by type of offence and by drug type in the EU Member States').

Offences related to the supply of drugs also increased during the period 2003–08, but at a much lower pace, with an increase of about 10 % in the European Union. Over this period, 17 countries report an increase in supply-related offences, while eight countries report an overall decline (6).

Trends by drug

Cannabis continues to be the illicit drug most often mentioned in reported drug law offences in Europe (7). In the majority of European countries, offences involving cannabis accounted for between 50 % and 75 % of reported drug law offences in 2008. Offences related to other drugs exceeded those related to cannabis in only three countries: the Czech Republic and Latvia with methamphetamine (57 % and 33 %), and Lithuania with heroin (26 %).

In the period 2003–08, the number of drug law offences involving cannabis increased in 15 reporting countries, resulting in an estimated increase of 29 % in the European Union ('Figure 2: Trends in reports for drug-related offences by type of offence and by drug type in the EU Member States'). Downward trends are reported by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Austria and Slovenia (8).

Cocaine-related offences increased over the period 2003–08 in 17 reporting countries, while Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and Austria reported decreasing trends. In the European Union, overall, offences related to cocaine increased by about 45 % over the same period, showing a levelling off in the last year (9).

The change from a downward to an upward trend reported last year in heroin-related offences is now confirmed: the EU average for such offences increased by 39 % over 2003–08. The number of heroin-related offences has increased in 16 reporting countries, while a decline was reported in Bulgaria, Germany, Italy and Austria over 2003–08 (10).

The number of offences related to amphetamines reported in the European Union continues to show an upward trend, with an estimated increase of 24 % between 2003 and 2008. Ecstasy-related offences, in contrast, have decreased by an estimated 35 % over the same period ('Figure 2: Trends in reports for drug-related offences by type of offence and by drug type in the EU Member States').

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(1) An analysis work file is essentially a secured database containing information provided by participating countries, under strict confidentiality rules. It allows Europol to support national law enforcement forces.

(2) See the box ‘Revenues and profits from illicit cannabis cultivation’.

(3) For a discussion of the relationships between drugs and crime and a definition of ‘drug-related crime’, see Drugs and crime: a complex relationship, Drugs in focus, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg..

(4) See Figure DLO-1 and Table DLO-1 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(5) See Table DLO-2 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(6) See Figure DLO-1 and Table DLO-5 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(7) See Table DLO-3 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(8) See Table DLO-6 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(9) See Figure DLO-3 and Table DLO-8 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

(10) See Table DLO-7 in the 2010 statistical bulletin.

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Page last updated: Monday, 25 October 2010