Canada is the leading supplier of the drug ecstasy in North America and a growing producer of methamphetamine for markets around the world, a new United Nations report has found.
"We have seen in Canada an increase in manufacturing and seizures in illicit drugs because of pretty tough measures in the United States which have made some of the manufacturing migrate south towards Mexico and north towards Canada," the UN's drug czar, Antonio Maria Costa, said in an interview on the eve of the report's release.
"In the U.S., for example, they have banned the over-the-counter sale of some of the chemical precursors used to manufacture methamphetamine."
Ecstasy, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), is a synthetic, psychoactive drug similar to methamphetamine and mescaline that produces feelings of increased energy, euphoria and emotional warmth.
The report found that since 2003-2004, "Canada has emerged as the primary source of ecstasy-group substances for North American markets, and increasingly for other regions."
Asian organized crime groups primarily control ecstasy labs in Canada, using chemicals smuggled into the country in sea containers from China.
In 2007, half the ecstasy produced in Canada was destined for markets outside Canada, most of it bound for the U.S., Australia and Japan, the report found.
Japan has identified Canada as the single biggest source for seized ecstasy tablets, followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium.
The report also found that Canadian organized crime groups have significantly increased their participation in the meth trade over the past few years.
"By 2006, law enforcement intelligence noted that Asian organized crime and traditional outlaw motorcycle gangs operating in Canada had increased the amount of methamphetamine they manufactured and exported, primarily into the USA, but also to Oceania and East and South-East Asia," the report found.
Australia says Canada accounts for 83 per cent of total seized meth imports by weight; in Japan, the figure is 62 per cent.
"Although only five per cent of domestically manufactured methamphetamine was exported in 2006, by 2007 that figure was 20 per cent," the report said.
Separate from the Canadian situation, the report found that production and demand for most illegal drugs is declining, except for a rise in amphetamines.
It also found that illegal drug seizures were up in 2007, and all drug seizure totals were at all-time highs or close to all-time highs. There are also declining rates of drug addiction, Costa said.
"The drug control regime has contained drug abuse in terms of percentages of the population to a fraction compared to tobacco addiction," he said.
"Basically we have not seen an increase; we have seen flat and now decreasing rates."
The report also found that while global markets for cocaine, opiates and marijuana are holding steady or in decline, some 28 million people are heavy drug users who are likely to be physically or psychologically dependent on drugs.
Opium cultivation in Afghanistan, where 93 percent of the worlds opium is grown, dropped by 19 percent last year, and there was a 28 percent decline - the report called it staggering - in production of cocaine in Colombia, which produces half the worlds cocaine.
Marijuana, or cannabis, remained the most widely used and cultivated drug in the world and it is more harmful than commonly believed, the report said. As a result, the number of people seeking treatment is rising. Roughly 167 million people use marijuana at least occasionally.
Opiates and cocaine have about 18 million users a year each. And it is estimated that 11 million to 21 million people worldwide inject drugs.
Among the striking findings in the report is the growth of what was once a cottage industry of industrial-sized laboratories in southeast Asia, particularly in the greater Mekong region of Vietnam, producing massive quantities of methamphetamine tablets and crystal meth.
Costa credits improved prevention and awareness about drug use.
"We now know how to deal with it in terms of treatment and in terms of prevention," he said.
The UN report advises against decriminalizing illegal drugs, but Costa said drug addicts must not be treated as criminals.
"We are very strongly in favour of decriminalizing drug abuse," Costa said. "We deal with addicts ... they need to be put in hospital, not in prison."
But that doesn't mean the manufacture and distribution of illicit drugs should be decriminalized, he said.
"Why should we should unleash a public health problem in potential drug abuse in order to deal with a subject matter than can be dealt with, namely public security issues and organized crime?" he said.
"I don't believe there's a tradeoff ... we should deal with both the public security and the public health problem without surrendering one of the two.