A day for drug prevention or drug promotion?
Today, on 26 June, the international community, individuals and organizations across the globe come together to observe the International day against drugs and illicit trafficking.
The United Nations describes this International Day as a day to «raise awareness of the major problem that illicit drugs represent to society».
This year’s theme – «Health for Justice. Justice for Health» – reminds us that the world drug problem requires a balanced approach where the health and justice sectors work together to provide solutions in line with human rights obligations and the international drug conventions.
However, on this same day the international cannabis industry meets in London for a $1500 one-day event to explore investment opportunities in a future European cannabis market estimated at €125 billion in 2028. The event is billed as a meeting place for investors, producers and cannabis industry service providers, e.g. legal firms and marketing companies.
NGOs and traditional cannabis activists are few and far between. Instead the programme is directed at «sophisticated investors seeking alternative asset classes and portfolio diversification.»
Conspicuously absent from the programme is any mention of health and social harms from cannabis.
This event is not particularly significant, unique or outrageous. On the contrary, events like these are becoming increasingly common as the legal cannabis industry grows and evolves. As the market matures, we can expect similar events in Africa and Asia.
Legalization in the US and Canada has allowed a legal addiction industry to gain a foothold and emerge with global ambitions. The goal is to open new markets and push cannabis into the cultural mainstream.
Cannabis is an investment opportunity for those who seek «portfolio diversification». For the rest of society it means the emergence of an industry that profits from addiction, that relies on turning young people into future consumers, occasional users into frequent users, and that sells most of its product to heavy users. Big Cannabis is increasingly beginning to look like Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco.
Legal drugs are not easily contained within borders and jurisdictions. The international community realized this a long time ago. For more than 100 years there have been international treaties to contain and regulate the production and sale of drugs.
The global cannabis industry is openly targeting Europe. We can expect a stronger push for legal access to markets in our part of the world as investments increase. We need to work together to protect young people and vulnerable groups against a new addiction industry in the years to come.