Pubdate: Thu, 19 Sep 2002
Source: Guardian Weekly, The (UK)
Page: 27
Copyright: Guardian Publications 2002
Author: Alexandre Garcia
Bookmark: (Cannabis)


Cultivation And Consumption Of The Plant In France Have Soared In Recent Years

In France the secret growing of Cannabis sativa , which existed on only a 
small scale a few years ago, is booming. More than 50 shops around the 
country now sell the equipment required for this new form of "gardening", 
whose practitioners, according to Ananda, a specialised wholesaler, number 
tens of thousands.

The craze for home-grown cannabis is also evident from the proliferation of 
books, magazines and websites devoted to the subject, as well as from the 
increase in the number of events that aim to promote the plant's legal and 
industrial form, hemp, which contains almost no psychoactive substances. 
This has already given its name to a trade show, the Salon Europeen du 
Chanvre, which has been held in Paris for the past two years, to a line of 
mass-market cosmetics, and to a folkloric festival in Montjean-sur-Loire, 
western France.

Over five days in mid-August, and for the seventh consecutive year, this 
capital of hemp celebrated the virtues of a plant that "symbolises the 
Loire Valley" and, in its psychoactive form, is now smoked by 7 million 
people in France, of whom 3.3 million are regular consumers (the country 
has 44 million alcohol drinkers and 16 million tobacco smokers). The head 
of the interior ministry's anti-drugs department, Michel Bouchet, is 
concerned about the "marketing" of cannabis, which he believes is 
responsible for the "steady increase" in the number of illegal plantations.

At a time when the interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said he opposes 
any decriminalisation of the use of drugs and disputes the very notion of 
"soft drugs", the number of cannabis plants seized by police has never been 
so high. In 1990, 48 police swoops resulted in 1,591 plants being destroyed 
whereas in 2001, 41,000 plants were confiscated in the course of 681 

"One can reasonably estimate that, below a line running from Brest to 
Mulhouse, there's a cannabis grower in every little village," says Francis 
Caballero, a lawyer specialising in drugs legislation. The law currently 
regards cannabis growing as the production of narcotics, which is a serious 
crime. But it is systematically redefined as a minor offence by the courts.

It is because they want to avoid getting into trouble with the law that an 
increasing number of cannabis consumers have started to grow their own. The 
equipment for growing cannabis (a complete kit costs about $500) is 
discreetly sold by 50 or so garden centres, and is also a money-spinner for 
half a dozen specialised stores in Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, Toulouse and 

Since the publication in 1990 of Jean-Pierre Galland's Fumee Clandestine 
(Secret Smoke), which sold 60,000 copies, cannabis growing techniques have 
been the subject of a series of best-selling books. One recent book, Ed 
Rosenthal's Culture En Placard (Growing In The Cupboard), sold 20,000 copies.

Cannabis seeds, the sale of which is prohibited, are more difficult to come 
by. Customers who do not want to go to the trouble of a trip to Amsterdam 
can get hold of seeds for "competition cage-birds", which range in price 
from $3 to $150 per seed, depending on quality. There is a note on each 
packet indicating that they must not be planted.

"This is a market niche that is booming; there is no need for advertising," 
says Kshoo, manager of the Mauvaise Graine (Bad Seed) shop in Montpellier 
(annual turnover: $100,000) and co-founder of the Cannabis Information and 
Research Collective. "We want people to legalise cannabis by growing it 
themselves, since it's still prohibited and the politicians aren't doing 
anything except crack down harder. So we've organised ourselves."

According to Kshoo, clandestine cannabis growing rarely leads to 
large-scale trading. For the past five years Franck has been growing 
cannabis in his kitchen garden behind his isolated little house in the 
Deux-Sevres departement . "It's good, 100% organic grass," he says proudly, 
pointing at half a dozen large pots of cannabis standing next to rows of 
tomatoes, potatoes and French beans. Over the years, he says, he tried 
every different growing technique before opting for "organic open-air 
growing in earthenware flower pots". According to Franck this method 
produces cannabis that has a flavour and psychoactive effect not found in 
any variety available on the market. His crop costs him a mere $180 a year.

Cannabis growing takes up a huge amount of time, according to Franck: "You 
can't go on holiday, and you have to keep watering, regularly trim the 
leaves and make sure there's no rot or insects." Then there is the fear of 
being denounced or having one's crop stolen, which happens often in the 

Cannabis grown in cupboards can satisfy the needs of only a small number of 
friends, says Franck. They are all fed up with pushers and the poor quality 
of Moroccan hashish, which is always spun out with paraffin, medical 
products or waste lubricating oil.

But to judge from the 5,000 sodium lamps sold annually by cooperative 
stores alone, and allowing for the fact that each plantation is tended by 
up to four people, there must be at least 100,000 cannabis growers in 
France, according to Eric Chapel, president of the Paka association. Paka 
runs a specialist shop opposite a police station in Montreuil, on the 
outskirts of Paris.

French output now seems to have increased to the point where it can satisfy 
the needs of more than half the national market. "There are even some 
French people who go to Holland to sell their produce," says Chapel. "The 
Dutch only produce industrial-quality cannabis for export. When it comes to 
top-quality grass, anyone can market the stuff."
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager