The highly variable cost of cannabis in cities around the globe indicates that prices do not necessarily come down with increased consumption – or even legality, according to a new survey.
The 2018 Cannabis Price Index, compiled by Seedo, an automatic cultivator device company based in Tel Aviv, claims to give the going rate for cannabis in 120 cities, ranging from £22.86 (US £32.66) per gram in Tokyo to less than £1 ($1.34) in Quito.
Between 100 and a couple of thousand submissions of prices were typically received for each city, according to the company, which also said the websites’ algorithms adjusted for outliers. It said the prices were then assessed against anecdotal reports by self-identified habitual cannabis smokers and national prices reported in the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2017 World Drug Report.
According to the survey, London not only consumed the most marijuana of the seven British cities surveyed – 31.4 metric tonnes each year – but paid the most for it at £6.44 per gram. The UK’s cheapest prices were in Leeds at £5.37 per gram.
A UNODC public information officer pointed to data from its Annual Report Questionnaire that said the price for cannabis in the UK in 2016 was around £10 per gram, but could go up to £15 per gram. The Seedo finding was broadly in line with the £5.22 per gram figure circulated by the online resource DrugWise.
Seven of the 10 cities where cannabis was most expensive were in Asia, many parts of which have conservative attitudes and harsh laws around drugs.
Tokyo and Kyoto’s high rankings are reflective of Japan’s Cannabis Control Act, under which use and possession is punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment; users often face a range of unofficial social penalties as well, such as job losses and exclusion.
In Ecuador – where cannabis can be bought in the capital city, Quito, for just 94p ($1.34) per gram – personal consumption is legal in quantities of up to 10g.
But the findings of the study suggested that price and consumption did not always dovetail with legality.
Users in Bangkok were said to pay £17.37 ($24.81) per gram, the most of any city where cannabis was partially legal, while in Jakarta, it cost just £2.65 ($3.79) per gram – the least of any city where it was against the law. In Indonesia cannabis is classified as a Group 1 drug, meriting maximum penalties of life imprisonment for possession and death for trafficking.
Uri Zeevi, the chief marketing officer of Seedo, argued that the discrepancies were evidence of the need for legislative reform. “That illegal cannabis use is so high in countries that still carry the death penalty such as Pakistan and Egypt [should show] those in power ... how desperately new legislation is needed.”
Even in those US states where cannabis is legal, there are variances at a city level. The Orange County Register reported earlier this month that though marijuana was legal in the state of California, local governments had their own powers of regulation, resulting in “a rapidly evolving patchwork of rules that can vary widely from one city to the next”. The newspaper recently launched a searchable online database in an attempt to keep track.
Boston, Massachusetts, had the most expensive cannabis of all cities where it is legal at £7.731 ($11.01) per gram, according to the survey, and Montevideo, Uruguay, the least at £2.91 ($4.15). Uruguay’s government approved legislation regulating the cultivation, production, dispensing and use of cannabis for recreational purposes in 2013.
Drug legislation reform is the subject of ongoing debate by governments around the world, with Norway’s parliament voting in favour of decriminalisation last month.
Daniel Pryor of the Adam Smith Institute, a free market think tank, argued this month that Britain should go one step further by opting for an entirely legalised, regulated drug market.
This would have the effect of “driving street dealers out of existence” while generating revenue, he wrote. Research carried out in 2016 found that a legal UK cannabis market could be worth nearly £7bn a year, including £1.05bn in tax.
The Seedo survey estimated that the City of London alone could raise more than £166m annually by legalising cannabis and taxing it at 82.16%, the total tax rateon the retail price of the UK’s most-sold brand of cigarettes. The Office of the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been contacted for his response.
The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, who has been vocal in his support a drastic overhaul of the UK’s drug laws, said Seedo’s findings were further evidence of the need for a legal cannabis market.
“Leaving the cannabis market in the hands of criminals gifts vast profits to organised crime,” he said. “A legal regulated market would give us control over the potency of the product and raise a significant amount in taxation which could be used to invest in better drug treatment services.
“We know from other countries that this smarter approach is possible, and the government must listen to the evidence on what works to protect public health.”