This is how much money people spend on drugs in South Africa

 ·23 Sep 2019

The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) latest World Drug Report for 2019 reveals how much money people spend on drugs globally, including South Africa.

The data covers the latest available year (2017) and covers all member nations of the UN.

According to the body an estimated 271 million people, or 5.5% of the global adult population (aged 15–64), used drugs in the previous year, while 35 million people are estimated to be suffering from drug use disorders.

Around 53 million people used opioids in the previous year, 56% higher than previously estimated.

The higher estimates are the result of improved knowledge of the extent of drug use from new surveys conducted in two highly populated countries – specifically Nigeria and India.

Looking specifically at South Africa, the UN noted that cannabis was highlighted as being one of the most used drugs in the country, with as many as 56% of people in treatment mentioning cannabis as their main drug.

However, the country also has notable issues with the use of crystal meth (known locally as tik) and has been highlighted as a trafficking route for morphine, heroin, and cocaine.

The prices of these drugs are also increasing, the UN’s data showed.

The most expensive drugs in South Africa are Ecstacy-type substances where users typically pay around R440 a gram – though prices range between R220 and R660.

This is followed by cocaine (R330 a gram), methamphetamine (R250 a gram) and heroin (R220 a gram).

Cannabis, which is also the most widely used drug in South Africa, is the cheapest, typically costing around R3 a gram, the UN’s data showed, though hashish (made from the resin of the cannabis plant) is far more expensive (typically around R145 a gram).

The table below outlines the UN’s findings on drug prices in South Africa (converted from US$), charged per gram (or per unit, for LSD).

Drug Min Typical Max
Ecstasy-type substances R220 R440 R660
Cocaine salts R220 R330 R440
Methamphetamine R165 R250 R330
Heroin R165 R220 R275
Hashish R65 R145 R220
LSD R75 R120 R165
Coca paste / cocaine base R65 R100 R135
Marijuana (herb) R1.50 R3.00 R4.50

Cannabis use in South Africa

In September 2018, the Constitutional Court found that South Africa’s laws around the private use of cannabis were not in line with the country’s constitution, giving parliament two years to bring the country’s laws in line.

The ruling had the effect of making private use of cannabis in the country legal, following similar trends seen in other countries.

Medical use of cannabis has been legal for more than two decades in several US states, and in some European countries, and Israel.

More countries join this group every month, the commission said, with the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg, Poland, Slovenia, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and Uruguay seeing similar moves.

The Netherlands, Uruguay and Canada have approved national cannabis laws, which regulate the whole cannabis market, including non-medical or recreational use.

Cannabis is seen as a huge economic opportunity for South Africa, with land being prepared in the Eastern and Western Cape to cultivate the plants, where hopes are industries can be born out of the production of CBD oils and other byproducts.

The effect of the change in stance towards cannabis has also been seen in crime data, with the South African Police Service’s latest crime stats showing a sharp drop in the number of people arrested for drug use – specifically because of fewer arrests being made linked to private cannabis use.

While cannabis is often singled out as a substance that has been demonised by heavy-handed international drug scheduling, the Global Commission on Drug Policy – a body of experts that provide analysis and recommendations to the UN – has argued many substances regulated internationally suffer from similar, arbitrary scheduling, without proper consideration or research.

The body has previously argued that drug scheduling in general needs to be overhauled.

Read: A JSE-listed company wants to become a major player in the local cannabis industry

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