Morocco: Cannabis Farmers Angry Over Police Bribes

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Photo: Laurent Laniel
Cannabis has for centuries been grown in northern Morocco’s Rif Mountains.

​For centuries, the remote town of Bab Berred has been the heart of Morocco’s cannabis-growing region, where farmers carried on the time-honored tradition of cultivating fine marijuana as their fathers and grandfathers did before them.

Growing marijuana is against the law in Morocco, but police looked the other way as farmers grew their pungent crops in the heart of the Rif Mountains. But now farmers are angry they are being forced to pay bribes to local police to continue growing the herb, reports Aida Alami at GlobalPost.

Thousands of farmers protested in the streets of Bab Berred, while the police and army watched helplessly.

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Photo: Laurent Laniel
Thick cannabis field nestled in a valley of the Rif Mountains region of Morocco

​”Long live the King!” the farmers chanted, using Morocco’s ruler as a shield to protect them from police repression. “Stop stealing from us!”
Thousands of Moroccan families depend upon cannabis cultivation for the livelihoods in this region, which covers more than 11,000 square miles. The growing of marijuana is commonly called “the culture of kif,” kif being a Moroccan term for hashish, the THC-rich concentrate prepared from the powdery trichomes found on female cannabis flowers.
Farmers say the area’s harsh climate makes it almost impossible to grow anything else.
Cannabis, though illegal, remains one of Morocco’s most lucrative sources of income. The North African country is estimated to have grown 53,000 tons of marijuana in 2005, according to the most recent figures available from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

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Photo: Laurent Laniel
Grade A Moroccan kif/hashish. Don’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakesh Express?

​Most of the cannabis is processed into hashish, with much of the final product being smuggled into Europe, which has a big appetite for it.
The Moroccan government claims to be attempting a crackdown on hashish production in accordance with international treaties.
It has received 28 million euros from the European Union for the unlikely goal of “eradicating” cannabis cultivation. The United States was foolish enough to promise $43 million more between 2005 and 2012, supposedly to “help farmers find new crops to replace marijuana,” but likely ending up in the bank accounts of Morocco’s infamously greedy and corrupt bureaucrats.
But to put a good face on things, Moroccan authorities have in the past year made a big show of “cracking down” on cannabis cultivation, including burning fields of the crop.

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Photo: Laurent Laniel
A large Moroccan cannabis cola

​Morocco claims it has cut cannabis traffickers’ revenue to less than a third of its 2005 level, and has actually complained about European Union countries relaxing their cannabis laws.
The Moroccan government claims it believes the cannabis trade is “hampering development” of is northern regions, where marijuana is grown.
But the real reason for the crackdown appears to be the belief by officials that the hashish industry is used to fund the activities of militant Islamists who seek to overthrow the government.
Still, though, marijuana is openly grown in villages in the Rif Mountains. However, farmers say that their already meager income is being greatly reduced by authorities demanding bribes to allow the cultivation to continue.
“There are no alternatives in this region — we are currently in the fifth generation of kif culture,” said Abdellah Ljout, a local social activist. “This region needs assistance. People are not saying they want to cultivate cannabis. They say they want to survive.”
Attempts by police to search one farmer’s house for cannabis angered local residents. Military and police trucks surrounded the house at 4 a.m. on April 10. But the farmer’s wife blocked the door, and dozens of neighbors gathered around to support the family.

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Photo: Laurent Laniel
This Moroccan cannabis field was located under cedar trees to help avoid being spotted from the air.

​The next day, a crowd estimated at 10,000 people, mostly young men, gathered in the main street of the village to express their anger.
Villagers said local authorities often threaten them with warrants to prevent them from speaking out. Police make sure farmers know they can be arrested at any time.
As is often done, the authorities claimed the presence of illegal weapons as a pretext to search the house. “They accused us of having weapons and I told them we did not have any,” said Abdelouaret El Bohidi, a cannabis farmer. “Here, everyone knows each other. They know there aren’t any weapons and that we are against weapons.”
El Bohidi said he produces about 10 kilos (22 pounds) a year that he sells for $300 each. He said he has no choice but to bribe local authorities. But it was the bribery payments that brought these cultivators to break their silence.

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Irrigation and terraces show the sophisticated nature of this Moroccan cannabis field.

L​”This is everything I own,” said El Bohidi, referring to a bag of marijuana. “I use it to buy grains, wheat, oil, soap, school books. I use it to pay electricity. If they take this from me, I will lose my mind. I won’t have anything left to feed my children.”
One farmer who, out of fear of retaliation, asked to remain anonymous said that he has to bribe the police two or three times a year. They usually come to his house and bargain over his freedom.
“If you don’t give them anything, you go to jail,” El Bohidi said. “They have nothing to lose. They throw you in jail to set you as an example to the others.”
The farmers are asking the Moroccan government to take a strong stand against harassment for bribes.
“If they want to forbid us to cultivate, they should tell us on television, or our elected officials should tell us,” said another farmer, Mohamed Amaghir.
“We will cultivate something else if they give us the means to do it,” Amaghir said. “All we are asking for is a piece of bread and nothing else.”
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