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A Guide to Europe's Secret Drug Capitals

Amsterdam isn't the continent's only drug haven.
2014 juni 26, 10:00am

(Photo by Matt Desouza__)

If you’ve ever spent more than €60 on weed in one go, chances are you’ve also splashed on an RyanAir to Amsterdam for the weekend. That’s because smoking a joint legally in a beautiful European city, surrounded by both erudite Dutchmen and shit-drunk Scottish stag parties, is generally much more preferable to hot-boxing your mate’s car in a lay-by, slamming the music off and ducking behind the seats every time another car drives by.

Understandably, that piff pilgrimage is something that all Nordic stoners are very grateful for. But it does make you feel for other European drug users somewhat. Where are they supposed to go to snort, smoke or ingest in peace? Coke-heads used to have that Bolivian jail where you could buy fishscale direct from the prisoners, but that’s now banished to backpacker lore, ruined by swathes of international media attention and a warden who realised that presiding over a state-funded gak factory probably wouldn’t look great on his CV.

Luckily, it’s not only our hearts bleeding for the continent’s forgotten drug users; in 2013, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) conducted a study of 42 European cities, analysing local waste-water (sewage, essentially) to determine which drug was most widely used in each area. Some of the results were as you’d expect, but there were a few in there that stuck out a little, and those are the ones we’ve laid out below in our guide to Europe’s secret drug capitals.

ANTWERP, BELGIUM

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Shockingly, Antwerp – a city full of diamond traders and fashion students – is also full of cocaine. In fact, Europe's coke capital is so keen on the stuff that nefarious pigeon fanciers have started doping their racing birds with performance-enhancing gak.

One potential reason behind the Belgian capital's fondness for blow is that almost 25 percent of the cocaine shipped to Europe from South America makes its way through the country, and a large chunk of that through the port of Antwerp. Conveniently – and kind of unbelievably – only two percent of the containers passing through the port each year are actually screened, meaning not a lot gets seized.

And lucky for the city's residents, that bountiful supply translates into low, low prices; at an average of €50 a gram – AKA a round in any Stockholm pub – it kind of makes sense that it's so widely used.

LAZARAT, ALBANIA

Cannabis growing all over the hills of Lazarat. (Photo by Axel Kronholm)

The bucolic town of Lazarat is slightly different to many other pastoral Albanian towns, in that its green pastures are mostly made up of cannabis plants, which produce around 900 tonnes of bud every year. A bag of weed there will cost you about a tenth of what you'd pay in Finland, but families can survive off a harvest for a whole year – and growing really is a family business, which is probably why it's not a good idea to fuck with the kush farmers of Lazarat.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, 800 police surrounded the town. Upon realising they were boxed-in, residents decided to base their response on the archetypal Michael Bay drug dealer – by grabbing some RPGs and machine guns, and blasting the overwhelmed cops off their turf. Thousands of plants were destroyed, but in the end the police retreated.

DRESDEN, GERMANY

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According to the EMCDDA study, Dresden is huge into crystal meth. Weirdly, they're also most into hitting the pipe on a Thursday, when the consumption level spikes drastically compared to the rest of the week.

Being so close to the Czech border helps the drug trade along nicely, but agents still bust between 200 to 300 drug kitchens in the region every year. Of course, a child could make meth (if they knew where to buy ephedrine and had profoundly apathetic parents), so it's still widely available – to the point where some dealers have introduced a loyalty system, handing out coupons to frequent customers so they don't switch to another supplier.

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND

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The North Yorkshire town of Middlesbrough, once known for fucking smashing it in the iron and steel game, now has the highest rate of serious opioid use in Europe. Named the "worst place to live in Britain" by revered cultural commentators Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer, the town also has the UK's highest estimated number of opiate and / or crack users (one in 40 adults), and intravenous drug use is three times more than the national estimate.

In case that wasn't depressing enough, it's not only class A drugs that Middlesbrough has a taste for; it's also the worst area in the country for alcohol-related hospital admissions.

NOVI SAD, SERBIA

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Bizarrely, considering you can literally buy it over the counter there, Amsterdam is not the leading consumer of cannabis in Europe. According to EMCDDA, that prize goes to Novi Sad, Serbia's second largest city, with the Dutch capital coming in second and Paris taking third.

Records show that, during the 15th and 16th century, there was industrial-level hemp production in the province of Vojvodina, to which Novi Sad belongs. Amsterdam didn't get its first coffee shop until the 70s, so Serbia's stoners clearly have heritage on their side.

FRANKFURT, GERMANY

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In 2008, there were 928 drug offences registered for every 100,000 Frankfurt residents, and the city is still Germany's drug capital. That either means police don't spend nearly as much time pissing about with menial stop and searches as they do in the UK, or Germans just aren't that into drugs. Mind you, a glance at any Berliner's jaw past 11PM is a pretty effective way to shut down that latter argument.

Frankfurt's international airport and other high-speed transport links – namely the railway and autobahn – makes it a handy hub for smugglers. But it does seem that drug runners are passing through rather than sticking around; since an epidemic of drug-related deaths in the 90s – and after measures named the "Frankfurt Way" were introduced to tackle it – the amount of drug fatalities has dropped massively.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND

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Glasgow isn't all just Buckie and heroin; cannabis raids are common there, too. In fact, thanks to expat Triad gangsters founding a bunch of weed farms, Scotland now exports more bud than it imports – increasingly making the country one of Europe's largest exporters of hash and marijuana.

RASQUERA, SPAIN

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The little Catalonian town of Rasquera is only home to about 1,000 people, but – like much of Spain – is in a horrendous amount of debt. After the town called a debt crisis meeting, its council officials voted to lease seven hectares of public farmland to a bunch of stoners so they could grow some cannabis “for therapeutic usage and to pimp”. Pimping – in this respect, at least – means "getting baked".

The mayor of the city claims that harvesting and smoking weed for private use isn't prohibited in Spain. Which is kind of true, but not really in the way he wants it to be; while it's fine to grow and smoke in the privacy of your own home, that's only because the reach of the state's drug policy is limited to public space. Unfortunately, all that farmland isn't inside anyone's home, and is very much public space.

Regardless, his hope is to raise around €1.3 million out of the leased land – and good luck to him.

More stories about drugs:

The Scouser Who Thrived in Bolivia's Cocaine Prison

The World Would Be So Much Worse Without Ecstasy

Bad News: People Are Taking Krokodil in Norway