Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 17 News List

Dealing with weed

While authorities say it's not as popular as amphetamines, ecstasy or even heroin, marijuana is finding its share of users among Taiwanese and even spawning a cottage industry

By David Momphard  /  STAFF REPORTER

popularity.

"I don't believe the statistics," said one senior police officer who asked not to be identified. "Just because those are the drugs that were confiscated, doesn't mean those are the most commonly used drugs." He illustrated his point by saying another statistic shows that the most commonly violated traffic law among scooter drivers is an illegal left turn.

"Traffic officers know exactly where people make illegal left turns and they wait for them to make it. If you spend all year waiting for people to make illegal left turns, of course your statistics will show that left-turns are the most common traffic violation."

STATISTICAL HAZE

Authorities believe that amphetamines, ketamine and ecstasy are the nation' s biggest problem drugs, he said, exactly because police frequently crack down on nightclubs, where the use of such drugs is high.

In his opinion, is marijuana as big a problem as the more commonly confiscated drugs?

"All drugs are a problem," he said. "But if you're asking which is the biggest problem, it's alcohol."

Even with it's newfound popularity, marijuana use in Taiwan remains far below the global average. The United Nations' Office on Drugs and Crime has, since 1999, compiled an annual report titled Global Illicit Drug Trends. Last year's report listed Taiwan's annual prevalence of cannabis abuse (as a percentage of the population) at 0.5 percent. (For opiates, the figure was 0.4 percent and for amphetamines, 1.2 percent, though that figure was from 2000).

Of Taiwan's neighbors, Japan ranked lowest (0.06 percent), and the Philippines was highest (3.5 percent). Taiwan's rate was far below China's (2 percent) and nearly the same as Hong Kong (0.6 percent). In Asia overall, according to the report, 2.17 percent of the population abuses cannabis, an estimated 55 million users.

By comparison, 9.3 percent of Americans are mad for reefer, 10.6 percent of Britons, and a whopping 15 percent of Australians. Papua New Guinea topped the global chart with 29.5 percent, though the last time anyone there bothered checking was 1995.) The full UN report is available on the Web at http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/research.html.

ANALYSIS of URINALYSIS

Annual global seizures of cannabis herb and resins rose some 40 percent between 1998 and 2001, the last year for complete statistics. Almost 5,600 tonnes of cannabis products were seized in 2001, 15 times the amount of cocaine and more than 100 times the amount of heroin -- a trend opposite that found in Taiwan.

The major shortcoming of most of these statistics in attempting to gauge cannabis use among a given population is that they look only at the amount and types of drugs taken off the streets. What remains and how it's consumed, as the senior police officer suggested, isn't known.

A different set of statistical information was compiled in a survey jointly conducted by Taiwan's National Bureau of Controlled Drugs and scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The survey, titled Use of MDMA and Marijuana Among Arrestees in Taiwan, compiled the results of urine samples taken from people arrested in either Taipei, Taichung or Kaohsiung between September 2000 and February 2001.

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