|Bong County, Liberia is the center of that country's marijuana cultivation scene (if I'm a-lyin', I'm a-dyin'!)|
Many farmers in Liberia are reportedly turning to cannabis cultivation to make ends meet, reports the Monrovia Heritage. The Liberian trade in marijuana seems to be largely domestic, according to a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which also says that many African countries, including Liberia, have "ideal growing climates" for the herb.
"I grow marijuana," said Nathaniel Cico of central Liberia, reports Voice of America. "It is what I have been doing over the past year to sustain my family and myself. There are no jobs in the country. Things are very tough. How do people expect us to survive if things are very tough, no jobs?"
One-quarter of the world's marijuana is grown in Africa, UNODC estimates. It reports that up to 13.5 percent of the adult population of the continent uses cannabis, much higher than the global average of between two and five percent.
Growing, selling and buying marijuana is illegal in Liberia, but law enforcement officials claim that penalties are "minimal" and not enforced. The police sing a familiar tune, claiming they "don't have enough resources" or strong enough laws to go after marijuana offenders.
|A cannabis smoker in Monrovia, Liberia|
"Currently, the laws on the book, in my view, are very weak, and they are permissive of these acts that are perpetrated by criminals who continue to have these drugs in our communities, that have caused our children, our brothers, our fathers and our mothers to become addicted to these harmful substances," said Flomo Weahma, chief for central Liberia's Drugs Enforcement Agency (DEA), who seems to be inordinately fond of long, dramatic run-on sentences.
Liberian DEA officials claimed posting bail costs just $72 for "drug crimes."
Puzzlingly enough, back in 2009 Liberian officials announced that sentences were being quintupled for drug trafficking offenses, including marijuana cultivation, reported Phillip Smith at StoptheDrugWar.org at the time. "If you are arrested and sent to court and convicted, you could be sentenced to jail for not less than 25 years and not more than 60 years," said James Jelah, then head of the Liberian DEA.
Under the 2009 law, drug offenders are no longer eligible for bail while awaiting trial, and police and prosecutors were granted new asset forfeiture powers.
Liberian drug cops claim that local production and consumption of marijuana is a "problem" (really? how, exactly?), and that those involved in the marijuana trade say they cannot survive without it.
Pierre Lapaque, the UNODC representative for West and Central Africa, admitted that marijuana production in the region remains small-scale.
"It's cultural," Lapaque admitted. "Large parts of the population do smoke marijuana. But the most important trafficking within the region is either happening within the country -- so it's produced and consumed locally -- or it's produced locally and consumed in neighboring countries within the region."
Lapaque said a more urgent threat in West Africa is transnational organized crime -- which is more commonly associated with hard drugs like cocaine.
Of course, these local drug cops are always hungry for more fat U.N. grants to fight a quixotic and unwinnable war against marijuana. Back in 2008, a similar "effort to rid Liberia of marijuana," predictably, had no impact on the country's burgeoning appetite for cannabis. Nearly 450,000 plants were destroyed that year.
"Marijuana makes people happy," Liberian National Police (LNP) anti-narcotics officer Flomo J. Tomkollie said back in 2008. "To combat the problem [wait... making people happy is a problem?] we need to find other ways to make them happy -- we need to train people and help them find a job."
"You cannot take crime to be an income-generating activity," sputtered Anthony Souh, director of Liberia's DEA. "What is a crime is a crime. To go into drugs does not justify one's desire to make money because there are other cash crops that can make money as well."
But Director Souh... do those "other cash crops" get you high?