Report Reveals Europe’s Cannabis and Cocaine Capitals, Dutch Cities Reign Supreme

A new report reveals the cities in Europe with the highest concentrations of cannabis and cocaine use, based on sewage surveys. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Dutch cities including Amsterdam and Rotterdam took home some of the top spots for the cities with the highest concentrations of cocaine and cannabis use, respectively, and ranked high in several other categories. 

Spanning the course of a week during spring 2023, a team of researchers tested the water in sewage treatment plants in 88 cities in 24 European countries, NL Times reports. The study was conducted by researchers associated with the European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).  

Once researchers collected samples of sewage, they then calculated the concentration of six drugs in the wastewater per 1,000 residents to make the results comparable. The drugs researchers checked for are methamphetamine, MDMA, cocaine, amphetamine, cannabis, and ketamine. 

The Dutch cities that opted to participate among the 88 cities were Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Leeuwarden, Utrecht, and Eindhoven. By leaps and bounds, The Netherlands ranked very high for drug use, with at least one Dutch city in the top five cities in terms of drug use concentrations—for almost all measured narcotics. 

Rotterdam is the cannabis capital of Europe, according to the report, being the city with the highest concentrations of cannabis residues in its sewage, out of the 88 European cities surveyed. The city came in second place for MDMA as well. Amsterdam, Leeuwarden, and Rotterdam ranked third to fifth place for cocaine use, after Antwerp and Tarragona. 

Cocaine is the most popular drug in Amsterdam, ranking third, based on the sewage samples that were collected. Some results were surprising. Leeuwarden’s drug use, for instance, is surprisingly high, NRC reports.

Leeuwarden came third and Amsterdam fourth in terms of cannabis use. Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Utrecht are all in the top five for MDMA, while Leeuwarden came in seventh place.

“If you look at the demographic profile of Leeuwarden, it is not a city with many students or tourism,” says Trimbos researcher Laura Smit-Rigter, coordinator of the Drugs Information and Monitoring System. The drug residues measured in the city are very telling, she said. “In Leeuwarden it is on the high side, yes.”

Last October, Mayor Sybrand Buma (CDA) of Leeuwarden was shocked when he saw the figures on drug use in his city. He told Dutch outlet Omrop Fryslân, “These are things that I know as mayor, but if you look at everything together, you see how serious the situation is here in Leeuwarden.”

Trimbos researcher Laura Smit-Rigter revealed that she wants to be cautious, adding that Dutch cities are no different than any other large European cities. “Based on this measurement, you can see that Rotterdam has a clear metropolitan profile, just like Amsterdam and other major European cities. That involves some drug use.”

For Smit-Rigter, the drug residues in the wastewater are one of the pieces of the puzzle of drug use. “These figures tell us something about the total consumption. They say nothing about who the users are or how often they use. We also don’t know whether they are tourists, commuters, or residents of those cities.”

Dutch Cities and the Reasons Why Drug Use is High

More research is needed to paint a clearer picture before jumping to conclusions about Dutch cities.

“In-depth research is needed for a complete picture of drug use in Dutch cities,” said Ton Nabben, researcher and criminologist specializing in drug use among nightlife crowds and at-risk youth. Nabben follows the latest developments in drug use for platforms like the Jellinek prevention and Addiction Science Netherlands (VKN).

He does not immediately have a logical explanation for the sheer amount of drug residue in the Rotterdam sewers, leaving him at a loss for words. “I can’t place it. Rather, it raises more questions.”

Meanwhile, The Netherlands government confirmed that its pilot program was set to kick off December 15, 2023. “The most recent planning shows that two legal growers are expected to be ready for delivery to coffee shops in the fourth quarter of 2023,” the Dutch government wrote. “This is sufficient to start the start-up phase of the experiment in Breda and Tilburg. In this phase, participating coffee shops from these municipalities may offer both legally grown and tolerated products. The next two growers are expected to start supplying coffee shops in Breda and Tilburg in February 2024.” Breda and Tilburg are located in the southern part of the country, near the border of Belgium.

The Netherlands pilot program for cannabis could help reshape the country’s standing by providing regulated cannabis product instead of the legal gray area that dominates currently.

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