Pubdate: Wed, 08 Oct 2014
Source: San Francisco Chronicle (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press


KETTAMA, Morocco (AP) - Abdelkhalek Benabdallah strode among towering 
marijuana plants and checked the buds for the telltale spots of 
white, indicating they are ready for harvest.

By September much of the crop has been picked and left to dry on the 
roofs of the stone-and-wood huts that dot the Rif Valley, the heart 
Morocco's pot-growing region. Benabdallah openly grows the crop, 
despite the risk: "We are regularly subject to blackmail by the 
gendarmes," he said as he scythed through stalks and wrapped them 
into a bundle.

Morocco's marijuana farmers live in a strange limbo in which the 
brilliant green fields are largely left alone, while the growers face 
constant police harassment. A new draft law may bring some reprieve: 
It aims to legalize marijuana growing for medical and industrial uses 
such as textiles and paper, in a radical step for a Muslim nation. 
That could alleviate poverty and social unrest, but the proposal 
faces stiff opposition in this conservative country, as well as the 
suspicions of farmers themselves, who think politicians can do 
nothing to help them.

Morocco is joining many other countries, as well as some U.S. states, 
in re-examining policies toward drugs and looking to some degree of 
legalization. But Morocco's Islamic faith creates a strong taboo 
toward drugs, despite the centuries-old tradition of growing the 
plant in the north.

Morocco is one of the world's top suppliers of hashish. The World 
Customs Authority reports that in 2013, 65 percent of hashish seized 
at customs worldwide came from Morocco, with most of that going to Europe.

Estimates vary wildly for how much the business is worth but 
legalization would certainly provide a substantial boost to farmers 
and to Morocco's anemic economy, which will grow by just 2.5 percent this year.

But the farmers who cultivate the marijuana plants remain suspicious 
of any measures by politicians who they claim have never done 
anything for their poor, neglected region.

"If legalization happened for all of Morocco, we could never compete 
with the other farmers that have lots of land and the price of 
cannabis wouldn't be any different than that of carrots," said 
Mohammed Benabdallah, an activist in the village of Oued Abdel Ghaya.

While customers pay top dollar for hashish and marijuana in the famed 
coffee shops of Amsterdam, the Moroccan farmers who produce it make 
on average just $3,000 to $4,000 a year.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom