Pubdate: Tue, 16 Dec 2003
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: Owen Bowcott
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Popular)


Cannabis production is expanding so fast in Morocco that it is causing
soil erosion and the destruction of long-established forests, the UN
reported yesterday. The illicit cash crop, which supplies most of the
resin used by Europeans, is estimated to be worth ?7bn a year to
trafficking networks.

As much as a quarter of the agricultural land in the Rif, the
mountainous region where the plant is traditionally grown, is given
over to cannabis cultivation, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

Two-thirds of the local population - as many as 800,000 people -depend
on the crop.

"Through its expansion, cannabis production threatens the environment
of the Rif," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of UNODC.

"[It] risks corrupting the social and economic structure and
compromising any prospects of sustainable development there."

The increase was partially due to the "spectacular expansion of drug
consumption" in Europe since the 1970s, he said.

The report reinforces previous alerts over the scale of the country's
Moroccan drug industry. Earlier this summer, EU agronomists
effectively abandoned a ?750,000 programme aimed at persuading
Moroccan farmers to cultivate avocados rather than cannabis.

The survey, carried out with the cooperation of the Moroccan
government, shows that 134,000 hectares are given over to growing what
is locally known as kif . As much as 47,400 tonnes is harvested.

"In the past 20 years, cannabis cultivation has spread from the
traditional areas in the central Rif, where it has been grown since
the 15th century, to new areas," the UN report says.

As much as 1.5% of Morocco's arable land is given over to cannabis,
with the average family income derived from it estimated at ?1,280,
although prices have fallen sharply in the past four years in Britain,
possibly as a result of the rapid rise in homegrown marijuana production.

The gradual softening of laws against cannabis possession do not,
however, appear to have had any significant effect so far on demand
for Moroccan hashish.

Most of the money from illegal sales, however, does not return to the
farmers, whose combined income is believed to be about ?141m, compared
with ?7bn earned in Europe.

An earlier UNODC report suggested that cannabis is the most widely
produced, smuggled and consumed illegal drug in the world.
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