Cannabis legalization is gathering pace worldwide. Unprecedented amounts of cocaine, MDMA, and heroin are being produced in Colombia, Holland, and Afghanistan, while labs in China are pumping out an alphabet soup of synthetic drugs. The global demand for drugs—there are 275 million drug users worldwide, according to the World Health Organization—continues unabated, as production capacity is ramped up year on year.
We know about the human costs of the illegal drug trade, such as crime, addiction, and death. But while traditional media narratives about drugs have centered on violence, they’ve often ignored another pitfall of the illegal drug trade: the environmental impact of a massive, underground, unregulated industry operating around the world. Here are the ways that our use of cannabis, cocaine, MDMA, and heroin—and the war against them—is damaging the planet.