Pubdate: Tue, 15 Aug 2000
Source: Independent, The (UK)
Copyright: 2000 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Contact:  1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL
Author: Nick Pelhamin, the Rif Mountains, northern Morocco


Morocco's cannabis farmers are enjoying a bumper harvest this year,
thanks to a combination of late rains and an atmosphere of greater
tolerance under the young King Mohammed VI.

The growers produce some 2,000 tonnes of hashish a year, despite
demands from the European Union for the government to stop it.

"Year-in-year out, at harvest time the police would sweep through our
farms, rounding up peasants," said one grower, Abdallah, after the
first week of cutting cannabis on the banks of the river Laou. "This
year, there've been no arrests, and the gendarmes have left us alone."

After decades of isolation under Hassan II, the new mood of optimism
is palpable in the rebellious Berber mountains. Farmers in their
thousands cheered the king when he tripped through the cannabis region
last year in a white Cadillac. He has left his capital, Rabat, for
weeks on end, preferring to conduct his affairs in Tangiers, a city
made rich from the hashish trade.

Despite European Union demands for a crackdown, after one year on the
throne, the king  whose long-term aim is to secure EU membership 
has done nothing to curb drug cultivation. An EU-funded report says
hashish earns the kingdom $3bn a year, and it remains its prime source
of hard currency.

A recent parliamentary report says 60,000 hectares of land are given
over to cannabis cultivation. Other reports claim that more 120,000
hectares grow behind a camouflage of maize. Bankers estimate this
black economy accounts for between one-third and a half of the
country's total earnings.

This year the figures could be even more striking, but the prosperity
of the cannabis farmers contrasts starkly with peasants elsewhere in
the kingdom, who are suffering under a second year of drought. The
cannabis weed is far more resistant to drought than wheat.

Brussels has abandoned an eight-year-old plan to persuade farmers to
substitute goats for cannabis, after discovering that production had
spread from its traditional enclave around Ketama, north to the
Mediterranean coast and south to the foothills of Fez. On 19 July, the
Moroccan authorities announced their largest seizure, 19 tonnes of
hashish in the back of a van, an amount little short of the total
seizure for the whole of last year. Spanish police arrested Portugal's
honorary consul in Tangiers for hiding hashish in his car.

For the past three years, Spanish customs officials have seized 300
tonnes a year. Intercepting the traffic is proving as hard as keeping
boat people from crossing the eight-mile Strait of Gibraltar.
Clandestine migrants raise $600 a head for a place in a rickety boat
by smuggling shoeboxes of hashish. On dry land, many head for
drug-friendly Holland.

The government blames Morocco's human and narcotic exports on
under-development. It says mass EU investment is the price of ending
the deluge of illegal migrants and drug traffickers to Europe. Ten
miles from Europe, the city's literacy and child mortality rates are
the worst in North Africa.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake