VIENNA (Reuters) - More
Americans are consuming cannabis as their perception of
the health risks declines, the U.N. drugs and crime
agency said on Thursday, suggesting legalization may
further increase its use among the young.
In a finding that could feed into an international debate on the
decriminalize of marijuana, it said more people around the world,
including in North America, were seeking treatment for
It was still too early to understand the impact of recent
legalization moves in the U.S. states of Washington and Colorado and
the South American country of Uruguay, the U.N. Office on Drugs and
Crime (UNODC) said in its 2014 World Drug Report.
However, for youth and young adults "more permissive cannabis
regulations correlate with decreases in the perceived risk of use",
which in turn may affect consumption, the report said.
Research suggests that declining risk perception and increased
availability can lead to wider use and to more young people being
introduced to the drug, the UNODC said.
Global cannabis use seemed to have decreased, it said, reflecting a
decline in some European countries.
"However, in the United States, the lower perceived risk of cannabis
use has led to an increase in its use," UNODC said, without
specifying what may have caused this change.
Voters in Washington and Colorado in 2012 became the first in the
United States to legalize recreational marijuana, but U.S. federal
laws still prohibit sales.
Citing statistics from before the new rules took effect, the UNODC
said the number of people in the United States aged 12 or more who
used cannabis at least once in the previous year rose to 12.1
percent in 2012 from 10.3 percent in 2008.
"WAR ON DRUGS"
Regarding other narcotics, a surge in opium production in
Afghanistan - where the area under cultivation jumped by 36 percent
in 2013 - was "a setback", while the global availability of cocaine
fell as production declined from 2007 to 2012.
Last year, the worldwide output of heroin "rebounded to the high
levels witnessed" in 2008 and 2011, UNODC added. "Up to 200,000
people die every year due to illicit drugs," UNODC executive
director Yury Fedotov said in a statement.
In December, Uruguay became the first country to legalize the
growing, sale and smoking of marijuana, a pioneering social
experiment aimed at wresting the business from criminals that will
be closely watched by others debating drug liberalization.
Critics say legalization will not only increase consumption but open
the door to the use of harder drugs than marijuana.
"Although the general public may perceive cannabis to be the least
harmful illicit drug, there has been a noticeable increase in the
number of persons seeking treatment for cannabis use disorders over
the past decade," the UNODC said.
But with the U.S.-led war on drugs facing mounting criticism,
success in Uruguay could fuel legalization momentum elsewhere.
In a joint statement, a group of non-governmental organizations,
including New York-based Open Society Foundations and Release in
London, called on governments to put an end to "the expensive and
counter-productive" anti-drugs war.