5 - The Cannabis Market
of products and prices within the UK cannabis market is
not usually revealed by official statistics. Police and
HM Customs sometimes give cash values for amounts seized,
but these figures are often disputable, and the means
by which they are calculated are opaque. Variations in
availability and prices by quantity bought, and by region,
are obscured by variations in different police forces'
reporting methods, which are not made public.
statistics distinguish between 'Cannabis Resin' and 'Herbal
Cannabis', but not usually between varieties within those
broad categories. There is considerable variety in potency
and composition. Cannabis users do distinguish between
brands where a choice is available, although they seem
less well-informed about their choices than in the past.
We asked what percentage of their usage was of each variety
(the market share), which they preferred (rated from 0-10),
and what they would usually pay for them in various quantities.
As well as the more common varieties we asked about a
fictitious variety, 'OT' and about 'other/unknown' hashish
and herbal cannabis for the benefit of those who either
don"t know what they are buying or don't care.
personal use is almost universally sold in 'imperial'
measurements of fractions of an ounce. Common 'deals'
are 1/16oz (1.75g), 1/8oz (3.5g), 1/4oz (7g), 1/2oz (14g)
and 1oz (28g), with the unit price decreasing with larger
amounts bought. Moroccan resin typically appears in the
UK in º kilo (approx. 250g/9oz) 'bars', and the units
of measurement used are usually metric above this quantity.
Asian 'black' resin would commonly appear in kilo blocks.
Imported herbal cannabis would normally arrive in the
UK in the form of dried fruiting tops compressed into
The most common
1/8th price is £15, and the most common
ounce price £90, although "eighths" can
sell for anywhere between £10 and £20 (typically
£13 to £15), and ounces typically from £75
to £100. Significant numbers of respondents reported
lower than average prices for resin, and higher prices
for herbal cannabis, particularly the hybrid varieties
such as "Skunk". (Tables 5.4 & 5.5). The
proportions of regular use claimed for some rare varieties
have probably been over-reported and the more common varieties
as 'Cannabis Resin', hashish or hash accounts for roughly
two thirds of UK consumption. By far the largest proportion
comes from North Africa, known as Moroccan hashish. The
other common source is the Indian sub-continent, producing
the softer, darker "black" resins from Afghanistan,
Pakistan (e.g. 'Red Seal'), India, and Nepal. Lebanese
hashish was popular in the UK until the mid 1980s, although
it is rarely seen now.
Hash from Morocco
and the Lebanon is usually produced by sifting mature
cannabis plant tops through fine sieves until a resinous
powder remains, which is compressed and heated into blocks
sealed with cellophane or cloth. The hash may be any colour
from a dark yellow through reddish-brown, to dark brown.
The consistency is normally hard and brittle, sometimes
layered (light Moroccan) and sometimes slightly malleable
usually used in the Indian sub-continent involves rubbing
the resinous tops of the plant with hands or implements,
allowing the resins to stick to skin or leather. These
are then scraped off and rolled into lumps, and later
compressed into blocks. The colour is usually dark-brown
to black on the surface, lighter inside. The consistency
is normally soft, and a lump can be moulded into various
shapes. Some 'black' -type resins are now imported from
The range of
potencies (measured as THC content by dry weight) found
in seized hashish has varied from under 1% to 26%, but
would typically be 3% to 8%. Prices vary from £70
to £120 per ounce, typically £85 to £95,
or £12-£15 per 'eighth'.
reported retail price per eighth ounce across the UK for
Asian 'black' cannabis resin was £14.83, the average
UK ounce price was £90.68, and the average 'nine-bar'
price was £648.30. Expressed as prices per gram,
these would represent £4.24, £3.24 and £2.59
respectively. Users gave it an average rating of 7 out
of 10 and a 9% share of the overall market.
The most common
type of cannabis available in the UK, accounting for 35%
of the total. Dark Moroccan resin, also known as 'Soap
Bar' or 'Black' is dark brown in colour, sometimes greenish,
with a shiny exterior. Quality is extremely variable and
the average rating is 6.9/10. The average retail
price per eighth ounce across the UK was £14.41,
the ounce price was £88.34 and the average "nine-bar"
price £629.26. As prices per gram, these would be
£4.12, £3.16 and £2.52 respectively. It
usually arrives the UK in 250g blocks approximately æ
inch thick, wrapped in clear cellophane, like a block
of brown soap, often with a makers imprint.
or 'slate' is normally found in thin slabs around º
to * inch thick and light brown in colour, which is normally
poor to medium quality, and crumbles to a powdery texture
on heating. It is becoming less common, taking approximately
19% of the market in 1994. Average rating was 5.7/10 The
average retail price per eighth ounce was £14.22,
the ounce price was £86.80, and the average 'nine-bar'
price was £617.87. Expressed as prices per gram,
these would be £4.06, £3.10 and £2.47 respectively.
had 16% of the reported market share, almost certainly
under-reported, as most respondents would not now differentiate
between 'soap' and 'slate', 'Moroccan' would now almost
always represent the soap-bar type.
The price differential
at retail level between Moroccan and Asian "black"
resin has substantially disappeared; the comparative 1984
prices of Moroccan were 35% cheaper than black at the
retail level; in 1994 the differential was only 2.9-4.3%.
Prices at "nine bar" level now reflect a similar
differential, with 250g of Moroccan roughly £20-£30
cheaper than the same weight of Asian resin. Prices for
1 ounce or over were not gathered in 1984.
appears in blocks up to 1 inch thick, wrapped in coarse
white cloth commonly bearing a makers trademark. Quality
is variable. The colour is gold/blond to dark red-brown
and it has a pungent aromatic aroma depending on age and
quality. Average rating was 6.6. Average prices were £14.42
per 'eighth', £88.65 per ounce, and £639.02
per 'nine-bar', or £4.12, £3.17 and £2.56
per gram respectively. Now rare (5% of consumption would
appear to be an overestimate), but the runaway market
leader in the 1984 survey.
prices for Lebanese were only 60-70% of those of 'black',
this price differential has now been eroded, so perhaps
users now pay a premium for novelty or nostalgia value.
Cannabis (bush, weed)
in UK law as 'Cannabis', herbal cannabis accounts for
roughly one third of UK consumption. Also known as 'Bush,
Grass, Weed, Ganja, Herb, Draw, Marijuana, Sensi' etc.
Normally what is sold is the flowering plant tops, with
or without seeds. The presence of seeds indicates a lower
quality product. Material which contains only leaves is
generally considered of poor quality. Premium prices are
normally paid only for indoor-grown intact or manicured
flowering buds with only the smaller surrounding leaves
can be sub-divided into three distinctive quality ranges,
Home Grown (rated 5.6), Imported(7-7.9), and 'Skunk' and
other hybrids (rated 8.9). The different ratings of these
varieties were reflected in the unit prices.
herbal cannabis may range from 0.3% to 22% THC according
to age, presence of seeds, method of storage and variety
of parent plant. These would typically be 1%-9% of dry
weight for compressed imported cannabis with seeds, 5%-15%
for prime manicured buds or indoor hybrids, and 0-4% for
leaf ,. Herbal cannabis tends to be consumed more rapidly
than hashish. (Table 5.2) This may be partially due to
deals of herbal cannabis containing amounts of stem (5-15%
dry weight) and seeds (0-30% of dry weight), resulting
in less usable material than the equivalent amount of
This is the
lowest quality (average rating 5.6), normally green leaf
material or whole plants, especially those grown outdoors
which would commonly bear some seeds. It accounts for
8% of consumption. The mean 1/8oz price of home grown
herbal cannabis range was £7.26 (£2.07 per gram),
ounce prices £46.85 (£1.67 per gram), and a
9oz (250g) price of £132.15 (53p per gram). In each
case the lowest price, and the most commonly reported,
was zero, i.e. the cannabis had been given away free.
Although 'other/unknown bush' is generally assumed by
buyers to be imported, some of it may be high quality
to be of medium to good quality with an average rating
7.2, most imported cannabis comes in compressed blocks
of dried flowering and fruiting tops (with seeds), most
commonly originating from Africa or the Far East (e.g.
Thailand), with smaller amounts from the Caribbean. In
total, these imports account for 21% of consumption.
prices for one eighth ounce ranged from £15.12 (African)
to £16.89 (American/Caribbean), or £4.32 to
£4.83 per gram. Mean ounce prices ranged from £92.51
(other/unknown bush) to £99.24 (American/Caribbean),
or £3.30 to £3.54 per gram. Mean 250g prices
were from £620.42 (African) to £674.33 (other/unknown)
or £2.48 to £2.70 per gram. African cannabis
can sell for as little as £10 per 'eighth', or £70
per ounce, although £15 per eighth and £90 per
ounce are the most common prices. Overall, prices of imported
bush are slightly more expensive than cannabis resin,
typically in the range £80 to £110 per ounce.
and other hybrids
of cannabis grown in the UK would appear to have doubled
between 1984 and 1994, most of this being attributed to
indoor cultivation of better quality cannabis strains.
These make up 13% of reported consumption. Such plants
are typically bred for short stature, bushiness, early
flowering and high flower/leaf ratio. Most of the highest
potency buds (17%- 22% THC) grown indoors in the UK have
used high intensity lights and traditional organic-based
compost, rather than a hydroponic growth medium.
The name 'skunk'
refers to a particularly pungent, but not unpleasant-smelling
hybrid variety which has been very well publicised by
the press and police in recent years. Much of what is
sold as skunk is simply buds of any indoor variety, and
as such the quality is not guaranteed. Premium quality
cannabis is found in manicured buds with a minimum of
surrounding leaves, and few or no seeds. It is mostly
grown by individual users with little leakage onto the
open market, although commercial-scale operations have
been seized by police. Occasionally it is imported from
Europe. The mean reported prices for "Skunk"
were £21.26 per eighth ounce (£6.07 per gram),
£128.79 per ounce (£4.60 per gram), and £888.85
per º kilo (£3.56 per gram). Other hybrids,
particularly 'Northern Lights' have their followings,
and command similar prices (typically £100-£160
per ounce), and a range of other exotic varieties (e.g.
'White Widow', 'Jack Herer') have become available. There
appears to be little evidence to support a common police
'skunk' valuation based on unit prices of £10 per
gram or more.
of reported hashish use and 7.5% of herbal cannabis use
are "other" or "unknown". Some of
the 'other' was rare or exotic varieties not listed on
the survey form, and where respondents gave information
about these the answers were coded appropriately - e.g.
'charas', a very high quality hashish from the Himalayas,
went under "Asian Black". These were typically
very small proportions of total use. Most of the respondents
seem to have meant 'unknown' in that they did not know,
or perhaps care, what the ultimate origin of their supplies
was. If anything, the results suggest today's cannabis
users to be less sophisticated than their predecessors,
with little awareness of origin besides broad terms such
as 'Rocky', 'Black', 'Bush' and 'Skunk'. The 18% of the
market buying 'Other/Unknown' hash and grass support this
variations in price
some differences in cannabis prices related to the type
of area (i.e. urban/rural) the respondents lived in, but
none of these variations with locality were statistically
significant, except for 250g 'soap' bar resin, Thai and
African bush. Although 'Home Grown' prices tended to be
lower in rural areas, this was not significant due to
the very wide variations in prices (Table
There was very
little regional variation in cannabis prices between areas
within the UK, although they were slightly higher in the
South West, and lower in Scotland. The range of prices
for most varieties was narrowest in Scotland (Table
of the market profile with seizure statistics
Of the 94,847
police and Customs seizures of cannabis products in 1994,
64.4% were of resin, 29.5% of herbal, 6% of plants (total
herbal & plants 35.5%) and 0.1% of liquid cannabis
("hash oil"). The respective proportions in
this survey (56.7% resin, 41.8% herbal), tended to underestimate
resin by around 8% and overestimate herbal by around 6%.
The very much higher proportion of oil reported in the
survey (1.3%), as well as the unexpectedly high reported
levels of Lebanese probably result from selective memory
underestimating usage of common varieties and overestimating
the rarer types.
The Drugs Intelligence
Laboratory (DIL) and Customs & Excise (HMCE) price
lists provide no information on how the data was gathered,
although these are understood to derive from police sources.
There appears to be little consistency in cannabis prices
quoted from different police areas, some quoting genuine
'ounce' prices, others an ounce price based on the equivalent
eighth or sixteenth ounce price. In February 1994 DIL
quoted UK average prices of £100 per ounce, varying
between £80 to £140 both for herbal cannabis
and resin, with 'skunk' prices quoted from £140 to
£160 per ounce. In March 1996 HMCE quoted a UK average
resin price of £94 per ounce, varying between £60
and £120, with kilo prices from £1600 to £3500,
and a herbal price of £105 per ounce, varying between
£50 and £140, with kilo prices from £1500
to £3500, and 'Skunk' prices quoted at an average
of £160 per ounce .
The 1994 Release
survey of street drugs agencies questioned staff at drugs
agencies throughout Great Britain, finding that the price
of both cannabis and cannabis resin was fairly constant
at £15 per 1/8th ounce, with ounce prices
quoted at £100 per ounce, and varying between £70
and £120. Neither the Release nor the police surveys
state the number of reports on which prices are based
(sample size), or the type or origin of cannabis or cannabis
of the market
are virtually uniform throughout the UK, with little if
any variation in price by region or by locality. Although
prices are now roughly double those reported in 1984 (e.g.
Moroccan resin at £14 per º oz or 7g), most
of the intervening rise in price took place during the
period 1985-87, and cannabis prices have remained more
or less stable ever since. The 'drought' of Moroccan resin
during early 1986 did not appear to have any long-term
effect on prices. Although 'skunk' and other varieties
have become more common, these types form a small fraction
of the market, and such supply tends to be informal, rarely
involving any organised criminal syndicates or large-scale
in the UK is apparently a responsive free market , where
choke points in the supply chain from overseas grower
to consumer have little or no effect on the overall market.
There are choke points provided by Customs and police
activity, which other agricultural luxuries such as olives
or coffee do not experience. From the evidence we have
it seems that those pressures must act in the same way
as the tariffs and subsidies which are used to make agricultural
markets efficient, by stabilising prices and availability.
Surpluses are diverted and destroyed by legal action,
or redirected by suppliers to other parts of the market
inside the UK or elsewhere, or warehoused. Shortages are
responded to by flexible supply and distribution networks
obtaining the product from multiple sources. Prices are
more variable in larger quantities, indicating that the
bottom of the supply chain is responsive to consumer pressure.
Traders in this sort of market have, in economists"
terms, a 'reasonable expectation of normal profit'. Another
economic model which might fit some of our evidence is
a national monopoly, which would also provide stable prices
and availability, but that does not fit with the range
of sources and quality, or with the conviction and seizure
prevalence from arrest indicators
A total of
582,204 persons had been convicted or cautioned for cannabis
offences up to and including 1994. If these persons represent
21.2% of regular users (the proportion of respondents
"busted"), the respondents to this survey would
represent some 2.75 million individuals. At average consumption
of 24.8g per month per person, this group would consume
some 817.3 metric tonnes of cannabis products in 1994,
worth £3.5 billion at street level. The true figure
could be higher or lower, depending on a number of factors
including whether the proportion of respondents, mainly
festival attenders, who had been 'busted'
was representative. Given the likelihood that festival
goers (attenders of outdoor events) may be up to twice
as likely to be arrested for drugs as other users, and
the year on year increase in cannabis arrests, these figures
probably underestimate the size and current value of the
cannabis market in 1997.