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Palau: Is it the world’s cannabis capital?

By Richard Knight
BBC News

A small group of Pacific islands with the population of a small town has been named as the country with the highest consumption of beer and cannabis. Is that really true?

The United Nations’ 2012 World Drugs Report , published in June, contains at least one surprising number – the nation with the highest level of cannabis use among adults is Palau.

This tiny island nation in the western Pacific Ocean is home to just 21,000 people, where – according to the UN – a quarter of adults use cannabis.

Not only are Palauans ahead of everyone else on this measure, they’re ahead by a long way. The country with the next highest rate of cannabis use is Italy, where – the report says – some 15% of adults use the drug.

If the idea that Palau is some sort of hedonist’s retreat sounds familiar, that may be because the island topped a 2011 World Health Organisation chart examining another vice.

According to the WHO’s global status report on alcohol and health , Palauans drink more beer per capita than any other nation in the world.

So what on earth is going on in Palau? Is it really an island of beer-swilling cannabis smokers?

Let’s look at beer drinking first. The WHO report was published in 2011 but it compared data from 2005.

That’s important because, for some reason, Palauans appear to have gone on a drinking spree that year. They simply drank more beer than usual in 2005. In other years, they slide down the chart.

More importantly, perhaps, while Palauans seem to drink a lot of beer, they don’t drink much of anything else.

If one looks at the total amount of alcohol consumed – rather than just beer – Palau slips down to 42nd place out of 188. On that measure, the Czech Republic has the dubious honour of occupying the top spot.

The UN’s 2012 figures on cannabis use in Palau are more problematic than the WHO’s data on beer drinking.

The report’s authors could not obtain survey data for adults in Palau. So they used a survey of cannabis use among state high school pupils and extrapolated those results to estimate a figure for the whole adult population.

There is one state high school in Palau, with a student population of 742. The surveyors found that about 60% of the 565 respondents in that school had used cannabis at least once and almost 40% said they had used cannabis in the last month.

Not so much a high school, then, as a really high school. For comparison, a similar survey of schoolchildren carried out in the US found 23% of students say they used cannabis in the last month.

But although the numbers from the Palauan school survey are striking, it is clearly a very small sample, as well as being unrepresentative of the wider population (one might reasonably expect Palauan teenagers to smoke a lot more cannabis than, say, their middle-aged parents).

Emery Wenty, a director for the Ministry of Education in Palau, simply does not believe the UN’s figures.

“Palau is a very small island. If cannabis use is as prevalent as the UN claims,” he says, “you would see it and smell it everywhere. You don’t.

“You sort of know just about everybody. It’s inconceivable that a quarter of the population uses cannabis.”

Wenty accepts that cannabis use may be a problem in the Palauan state high school but he points that there are about 500 other high school children in Palau studying in private – and mostly religious – institutions.

He suspects that the data from the state high school is not even representative of all Palauan teenagers, let alone the entire adult population.

Angela Me, a UN statistician who works on the World Drugs Report, accepts some of Mr Wenty’s criticisms.

There is a particular problem, she says, with collecting data from very small populations, because a small number of people changing their behaviour can create large swings in the statistics.

She points out, however, that their data – whatever its shortcomings – does suggest there is a relatively high prevalence of drug use in a number of Pacific island nations.

“We are going to have a meeting in the Pacific islands,” she says, “where we hope to collect more information and also reduce the margin of error.”

It would be wise to wait for the UN to complete its collection of more and better data from the Pacific islands before concluding that Palau really is the booze and drugs capital of the world.

Additional reporting by Charlotte McDonald.

A small group of Pacific islands has been named as the country with the highest consumption of alcohol and drugs. Is that really true?

9 Chic Places To Get High

Smokin’ a doob on your couch while watching TV? Not so glam. And kinda boring. Pulling on some of the world’s finest weed while lazing on a tropical island in the middle of the Pacific? Now that’s high style. Or how about smoking up before you chow down on some of the world’s best munchies? Haute! We’re not encouraging you to break the law of anything, but if you do enjoy a good puff of the Mary J, then here are the most chic places on Earth you and your buds may attempt to do so.

1 – Palau

Jamaica? Meh. (Sorry Bob, but your island’s a little ’phobic). And actually, Palau is where the weed’s really at! At least that’s according to the United Nations’ 2012 World Drugs Report which found the small nation comprised of over 100 tropical islands to have the most pot smokers per capita on planet Earth. That might have something to do with their weed, which is known to be the best in Micronesia and possibly all of the South Pacific. Anyway, Palau is gorgeous, tropical and has some of the best scuba diving in the world (Jacque Cousteau once called the Big Drop-Off, “the world’s best wall dive”). Plus its home to one of the only lakes where it’s possible to swim with non-stinging jelly fish. Trippy.

2 – Uruguay

Forget you Netherlands. How could you go and make it illegal for us to be a pot tourist in your beautiful country? No worries though, because gay friendly Uruguay is there to pick up the slack. Here, you’ll soon be able to purchase your bag of weed from the government. That’s because Uruguay’s President has decided to put the drug dealers out of business by taking the industry over himself (Take note Obama). Once you get your government weed, you can get stoned along any number of beaches (Punta del Diablo is where the pretty people usually go), wander the cobbled streets of 17 th century Colonia del Sacramento, party it up with the hot dudes of Montevideo and even hop a boat over to Buenos Aires. And bonus, with civil unions for the gays and anti-discrimination laws, its a smokin’ honeymoon/destination wedding just waiting to happen. Werrrk!

3 – Italy

Because really, is there anything better than munching out in Italy? Or actually, in Italy’s best food city, Bologna? Doubt it. Stuff your face for dinner with the in-crowd at Drogheria della Rosa and then fill it even more at the city’s best gelato shop, La Sorbetteria Castiglione. Afterwards, hang in the Sanctuary of Madonna (di San Luca that is), while Madge plays on your headphones. But before any of the aforementioned stoner-y activities, make an Italian friend—Italy legalized the personal growth of pot plants back in 2011— and get them to give you some. Just make sure it’s not oregano, okay?

4 – Thailand

By now you’ve heard of a Full Moon Party, where all manner of westerners go to get totally fucked up and dance on the beach in Thailand. But also in this jungly-land, it’s possible to float down a river on an inner tube and eat pot food products or mushrooms. None of it is legal of course, and you really don’t want to get caught, but somehow, danger makes this backpacker paradise seem a little more glamorous. Another reason to smoke in Thailand? To explore your pothead heritage! Thai Stick was the first strain of premium bud to show up in the US back in the 60’s and 70’s.

5 – Laos

You won’t get any high-end accommodations in Vang Vieng, Laos, but you will most certainly get high. It’s possible to buy pot by the kilo (only $300!) and you can plop yourself down in a weed restaurant and order yourself up a “happy pancake” or even a “magic mushroom.” Then, you can play in the pretty water. The police here mostly just make sure the westerners find their crash pad okay, though sometimes they’ll give out a fine and take your passport. The cost? Around $600, or, in more meaningful terms, 2 kilos of weed. Bummer dude.

A man hits the Bhang (Getty)

6 – India

Pass the Bhang, dude. No, like really. Bhang is the cannabis beverage Indian locals drink during the Hindu Spring festival of Holi (March 27, 2013). And actually, weed’s been part of India’s culture since the Atharva Veda counted it as one of their 5 sacred plants back in 2000 BC. Today, the Hindu (some of who believe Shiva created the plant from his own body) and Tantric Buddhists (who’ve controversially okayed weed as a medicine) still smoke the stuff when they get all spiritual. Also, the Taj Majal, Hin-dude.

Table Mountain High (Getty)

You don’t really need to smoke dugger, aka South African weed (pronounced duh-kah), to get high in Cape Town. You can take the cable car to the top of Table Mountain, way above the clouds for that. Or you could book yourself a room in any one of their high-end hotels like The Blue Peter Hotel and trip out on Blue Mountain Beach, where the mountains look blue at sunset. Then again, Cape Town’s got some of the best smoke around so maybe you’d be missing out.

Happy Trees. Happy Boats. (Getty)

8 – Ibiza

Ganja might be the Ibizan word for aspirin. At least that’s how it goes down on this island of never ending festivities and happy little beaches.

Even the Llamas like the grass in Peru (Getty)

9 – Peru

We’re not saying you need to hallucinate to enjoy the splendor of Machu Picchu, The Sacred Valley or Cusco, but it sure is a lot cooler if ya’ do! And, you might also get a little culturally closer to the Inca (who build said wonders) as they commonly used San Pedro, aka South American Peyote (which is legal in Peru), in their spiritual rituals. Celebs and creative types have been coming here for years to experience it. For the less adventurous, the weed scene is abundant and police literally watch deals go down in front of their faces on some streets near the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. You just don’t want to smoke in the open. Peruvian prison’s not so chic.

Israel—Tel Aviv is the glam place to smoke in Israel, where medical pot is totally legal and the boys are hot…. but it didn’t make the list because they just started selling weed that won’t get you high. Buzz kill.

Watch your travel plans go up in smoke. Literally.