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UK Drug Market Analysis

Purchasing Patterns and Prices (1997)

M. J. Atha S. Blanchard & S. Davis

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The aim of this study is to provide an analysis of the market in cannabis and other illegal drugs, including wholesale and retail prices at national and regional levels, market shares of different cannabis varieties and of each drug as a proportion of total drug spending, and to shed some light on the patterns of purchasing different drugs for personal use and/ or supply.

This survey was conducted during 1995 to 1997, with the aim of analysing the market in cannabis and other illicit drugs through targeting of heavier cannabis users. "Regular users" are usually defined by drugs researchers as those using weekly or more often. As the most regular consumers of any commodity typically account for 80-90% of total consumption, in a distribution known to economists as a Lorenz curve, it is possible to predict with reasonable accuracy market shares of commodities with reference to the purchasing habits of regular consumers.


Anonymous questionnaires were used, to avoid any tendency of respondents to conceal or exaggerate the level of their drug use. The form asked for responses from anyone who had "used cannabis or any other drug at least once". The design was kept straightforward and informal, asking respondents to give numeric or very short written responses, to mark multi-choice items, and to use a key (letters A-G) to describe frequency of consumption. The questions covered a limited number of demographic variables, the main identifiers being age, sex, area of residence and occupation.

Respondents were asked what they had paid for various drugs if they had bought any in their home areas within the previous year, what percentage of their total drug use was of each drug, what percentage of their cannabis use was of each variety, and their experience, if any, of cannabis cultivation.

Checks and balances were built in to the survey design, in particular "lie detector" questions involving a fictitious drug 'Bliss'. Key questions were phrased in more than one way. Cannabis consumption was estimated in terms of monthly cannabis use, purchase and monthly cost, as well as the number of joints smoked and rolled per day, and average frequency of use as well as most recent use of cannabis.

To analyse the frequency of their drug use, respondents were allocated points for each drug, from zero (non-use) to 4 (daily use). These scores were aggregated to generate frequency indices for all drugs, all legal drugs, all illegal drugs, and all illegal drugs except cannabis. Market variables included estimating the market share, prices, and subjective ratings of different cannabis varieties, and of different drugs.

There were a total of 1136 responses.

Each questionnaire bore a unique reference number allowing the distribution source and response rates to be identified. Two batches of questionnaires were distributed directly from stalls at outdoor music festivals by IDMU researchers, with facilities allowing respondents to complete and return forms on site. A second venue within the main festival, and a stall at a second festival, both distributed forms on an "ad-lib" basis to customers and collected completed forms. Further batches were distributed in Scotland (300) and a total of 700 forms were given or sent to individuals and organisations expressing an interest (including students, a London "head shop", and a "smokers" travel company).

Where forms were not collected on-site, respondents were given a Freepost address to which they could be returned free of charge, although no envelope was provided.

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