Pubdate: Fri, 18 Aug 2000
Source: Economist, The (UK)
Copyright: 2000 The Economist Newspaper Limited
Contact:  111 West 57th Street, New York NY 10019 (US office)
Fax: (212) 541 9378


EVERY six months, near the start of a new European Union presidency,
the Europeans try to discuss their "masterplan for drugs" with
Morocco, the world's largest hashish exporter and the supplier of more
than 70% of the EU 's own intake. To no avail. Morocco's cannabis crop
is estimated to earn it over $2 billion a year, the great bulk of the
money going to the traffickers--and the officials they bribe. Moreover,
it provides an income for one of Morocco's poorest and most unruly
regions, the Rif mountains, and sedates its sometimes rebellious 5m
Berber tribesmen.

Last year, farmers gave King Mohammed a rapturous welcome when he made
a trip through the cannabis heartlands of Ketama, the first monarch to
visit this sweet-perfumed land in 40 years. Though he stopped short of
his grandfather's custom of accepting a spliff, farmers praised his
tolerance in sparing them the round of arrests that his father used to
order at harvest time. As they take their machetes to the hemp,
peasants say that the late rains augur a bumper crop. And the king
maintains a discreet silence on his kingdom's leading hard-currency

European drug squads struggle to intercept some of the 2,000 tonnes of
hashish Morocco exports each year. Moroccan customs officials at
Tangier last month announced a record haul: 19 tonnes stashed in the
back of a truck. But the government argues that demand, not supply, is
the problem. Why punish poor Moroccans, when Europe itself is
beginning to ease its bans on soft drugs?

Moroccan official figures admit that the area under cultivation has
grown more than fourfold in a decade: from 11,500 hectares (28,500
acres) in 1986 to 50,000 hectares in 1997. Last year, the American
State Department estimated that the crop covered 80,000 hectares,
flourishing behind a cover of maize along the Mediterranean coast. It
is well defended against drought since 25% of the crop is irrigated,
against an average for all crops of only 10%. And, say diplomats, it
is even being cultivated on an EU-financed project for growing
alternative crops.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake