WASHINGTON (AFP) — Americans are the world's top consumers of cannabis and cocaine despite punitive US drug laws, according to an international study published in the online scientific magazine PLoS Medicine.
The study, released Monday, revealed that 16.2 percent of Americans had tried cocaine at least once, and 42.4 percent had used marijuana.
In second-place New Zealand, just 4.3 percent of study participants had used cocaine, and 41.9 percent marijuana.
The research was conducted at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, based on World Health Organization data from 54,068 people in 17 countries.
Rates of participation differed from country to country, and researchers noted uncertainty over how honestly people report their own drug use.
"Nevertheless, the findings present comprehensive data on the patterns of drug use from national samples representing all regions of the world," a PLoS statement said.
A vast majority of survey participants from the United States, Europe, Japan and New Zealand had consumed alcohol, compared to smaller percentages from the Middle East, Africa and China.
The data also revealed socioeconomic patterns in drug use. Single young adult men with high income had the greatest tendency to regularly use drugs.
Drug use "does not appear to be simply related to drug policy," the researchers wrote, "since countries with more stringent policies toward illegal drug use did not have lower levels of such drug use than countries with more liberal policies."
In the Netherlands, where drug policy is more liberal than the United States, 1.9 percent of survey participants said they had used cocaine and 19.8 percent marijuana.
Twelve US 12 states including California permit medical use of marijuana, but possession and use remains prohibited under federal law.
And despite the US government's massive anti-drug efforts, the United States remains the world's top drug market, one amply supplied by South American cartels.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency has observed ever larger quantities of illegal drugs pouring into the country.
"We are seizing greater quantities of illegal drugs than ever before," said a DEA statement last week.
In 2007, agents seized 41 metric tons of cocaine in just two raids, and denied drug traffickers record-breaking revenue of 3.5 billion dollars for the year, it said.
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