Pubdate: Tue, 20 Jan 2004
Source: Daily Times (Pakistan)
Copyright: 2004 Daily Times


(Reuters) - The waiter spread the word quickly around the Cafe de la Plage: 
"Stop rolling, cops are coming!"

As the manager switched off the reggae music, customers hurriedly threw 
cannabis and rolling paper onto the beach in front of the psychedelically 
painted haunt in the Moroccan capital Rabat.

The plainclothes police who arrived took 30 people with them when they 
left. All are likely to be charged with possessing drugs.

"They should not be jailing smokers but those who plant cannabis. How can 
you jail someone for consuming a national product?" said Rachid Moudni, a 
debt collector visiting the cafe on the day of the raid. Moudni's 
scepticism mirrors that of many other Moroccans, angry with government 
targeting users in a country that produces most of Europe's cannabis.

"Police are doing little to break the supply chain that starts with the 
farmer," said a bank employee also at the cafe, who asked to be identified 
only as Mohammed.

Not far from the shores of southern Europe, Morocco's Rif area is the 
world' s leading producer of cannabis. Two thirds of the drug circulating 
in Europe is said to originate from the mountainous northern area, where 
thousands of hectares are planted almost in the open.

A recent UN-sponsored report said cannabis cultivation in the Rif, which 
dates back to the 15th century, has spread rapidly over the past two 
decades from small patches in only two provinces to 134,000 hectares in six 

But efforts to target the producers have failed in the face of corruption, 
poverty and the Rif's isolation from the rest of the country.

In the village of Zoumi, a five-hour bumpy ride 220 km north of Rabat, many 
farmers have started growing cannabis.

"A hundred kilos yield 10,000-20,000 Moroccan dirhams while 100 kilos of 
wheat will give you only 250 to 300 dirhams," said one farmer, who asked to 
be identified only as Mustafa. These profit margins have made the drug an 
attractive investment.

"A link can be established between cannabis production and the relatively 
weak level of social and economic development of the production region," 
said the UN-backed report.

In addition to farmers, the cannabis supply chain employs thousands, from 
drivers to dealers, in a country where urban unemployment runs to 20 
percent and one in five people live below the poverty line. And farmers in 
Zoumi say authorities also take a cut of the drug cultivation windfall.

"From planting, irrigation, harvest to commercialisation, the farmer pays 
money to buy their (authorities) silence, otherwise he faces the law," said 
farmer Ahmed.

"Authorities take more than half of the revenues," added Saadia, a farmer 
in her early 70s.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom