Dreamy Weed Cannabis is one of the most diversified and widespread plants. It grows as a weed and is cultivated in a variety of climates and soils. It needs relatively little water and is resistant to drought. An estimated 40,000 tins of marihuana and hashish is produced very year.
Cannabis generally brings a grower at least $4,000 per acre and can cost as little as $100 to maintain and entire field. By contrast growing a field of onions can cost a farmer $500 and bring in only $100 if the farmer can find a buyer. One farmer told the Los Angeles Times, “To us, this is just a crop. I would rather plant melons, but customers are always ready to buy hashish.”
The potency of cannabis is influenced by the genetic make up of the plant (having good quality seeds is essential for growing good quality stuff), climate, soil, growing conditions, timing of the harvest and drying and storing techniques. Many marijuana and hashish producers say that like wine grapes the taste and potency of their crops improves in dry years.
As the cannabis plant matures cannabidiolic acid changes to cannabidiol, which in turn changes to THC when the plant reaches its floral peak. As the plant goes into the late floral stage THC changes into cannabinol. The idea is to harvest the plant when the THC is at its peak. Cannabis that is harvested at this peak is said to produce a “clean” and “clear” high. Cannabis that is harvested past this peak is said to produce a more sleepy “stoned” high.
Websites and Resources: U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) justice.gov/dea/concern ; Vaults of Erowid erowid.org ; United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) unodc.org ; Wikipedia article on illegal drug trade Wikipedia ; Frank’s A-to-Z on Drugs talktofrank.com ; Streetdrugs.org streetdrugs.org ; Council of Foreign Relations Forgotten Drug War article cfr.org/drugs/forgotten-drug-war ; Illegal Drugs, country by country listing, CIA cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook
Books: Buzzed by Cynthia Kuhn Ph.D. Scott Swartzwelder, Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D. of the Duke University Medical Center (Norton, 2003); Consuming Habits: Drugs in Anthropology and History by Goodman, Sharratt and Lovejoy; Drug War Heresies: Learning from Other Vices, Times and Places by Robert MacCoun and Peter Reuter (Cambridge University Press).
Growing marijuana is very easy. Regarded as a weed, it needs relatively little care and requires little or no herbicide. Farmers simply make sure they have some good seeds and the soil has enough nitrogen. Many farmers simply throw some seeds in the soil, water it a little and watch it grow, without fertilizers or pesticides.
One essential step in growing high-quality cannabis is removing all the male plants. With the male plants gone the buds on the female plants are not pollinated. They get bigger and denser and increase their THC content. If male plants are present they pollinate te female plants and the buds began producing seeds. Seeds don’t contain much THC and are unpleasant to smoke. Once the seeds are ripe the female plant stops producing resin and THC production and potency start to drop off.
Harvesting is simple. The flowering tops are picked and placed on nets and hung to dry for about a week. The dried buds are peeled off and placed in baggies. In northern California the cannabis crop is harvested in October.
These days much of the cannabis consumed in Europe and North America is grown locally. Because of bulkiness and relatively low market value (compared to other drugs), cannabis is best grown near its market. Smuggling marijuana is much more difficult than smuggling cocaine or heroin or even hashish which are more concentrated and compact.
Much of the cannabis consumed in Western countries is grown in basements, closets or otherwise empty rooms under grow lights, in greenhouses, or in farm fields mixed in with other crops. Many of those who grow it indoors use the latest, controlled, hydroponic cultivation techniques that produce higher THC levels.
Cannabis from Pakistan In 2009, the Economist magazine reckoned the production of cannabis had increased in the last decade. According to the United Nations, about 65 million tons of marijuana was grown in 2008, with Morocco, Paraguay, Mexico and the United States being the top producing countries.
Dr. Jason West of the University of Utah has developed a way to determine the point of origin of marijuana by measuring the ratios of stable hydrogen, nitrogen, carbon and oxygen isotopes found in the leaves. The ratio of stable hydrogen isotopes, for example, can be matched to the local water in a particular region with the same ratio. West can also determine other things like whether the drug was grown inside or outside, what fertilizers were used and amount of rain and sun using nitrogen and carbon isotopes. The research is being done in part because less is known about marijuana movement within the United States than about heroin and cocaine movement.
Hashish and Charas Production
Hashish has traditionally been produced in arid and semi-arid regions or mountainous areas in North Africa, Central Asia and South Asia. It is not produced in the tropics as can be the case with marijuana.
Hashish is made from the resin-rich trichomes with varying amounts of cannabis flower and leaf fragments that are extracted and pressed into sheets, blocks, bricks or balls. The trichomes and other materials are separated out using various sieving methods, ice-water separation, or chemical extraction. The best quality stuff is often made by sifting the material through fine screens, which allow only the trichomes to pass through.
Charas is made by rubbing ones hands through the flowering tops of cannabis plants and scraping off the resin that sticks to one’s palms. The work is very tedious and labor intensive. A worker may labor all day and collect only eight or nine grams of charas. There are stories of children being sent into cannabis fields and scraping the resins off them As a rule though the faster the work is done the lower the quality of the charas. Workers who make the best quality stuff, different called cream, often collect only a few grams a day.
Finger hashish is made by made by squeezing the buds of cannabis plants and rubbing the juices between the fingers and scraping them off. It is a tedious labor-intensive process. In Afghanistan, charas-like hashish is made by placing resin in a large heated mortars and then threshing it with a heavy object.
Hashish Agriculture in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon
Cannabis growing in front of
Dhaulagiri in Nepal Cannabis has been grown in the Bekaa Valley since the Ottoman era, when local pashas encouraged its cultivation. Hashish became such a fixture of the local economy it was used as currency and given away as dowries. Cannabis grows well with little work in the hot, dry climate there. One cannabis grower told National Geographic, "Hashish will grow on land that's too dry for almost anything else.” Many farmers have simply thrown some seeds in the soil, watered them a little and watched the plants grow, without fertilizers or pesticides. At harvest time buyers came to them and paid them in wads of cash.
An acre of cannabis will bring a grower about $4,000 and cost him only about $100 in production expenses. By contrast growing a field of onions can cost a farmer $500 and bring in only $100 if the farmer can find a buyer. One farmer told the Los Angeles Times, “To us, this is just a crop. I would rather plant melons, but customers are always ready to buy hashish.”
The hashish industry in the Bekaa Valley reached its peak during the 1975-90 civil war. There were lots f customers in Europe and North America at that time. The trade flourished under drug lords, defended by local militias, in the state of lawlessness. Fields were protected by gunmen. Some farmers grew opium as well as cannabis,
Sales peaked at $1.5 billion in 1988 when cannabis was grown on around 100,000 acres. Drug millionaires built gaudy villas and stashed away their earnings in foreign accounts. Ordinary farmers could afford nice cars and new houses. Local shop owners did good business.
Farmers were paid as much as $300 a kilo for top grade hashish, compared to 20 cents for a kilo of potatoes. Some farmers collected government subsidies by growing a token amount of sunflowers in the visible parts of their fields and growing cannabis behind it.
Crack Down and Return of Hashish Agriculture in Lebanon
indoor growing In the mid 1990s, the Lebanese government launched an drug eradication program. Cannabis plants were uprooted and burned by the Syrian and Lebanese armies. Poisons and chemicals were poured on thousands of acres of cannabis fields. Drug lords were forced to sell their villas and the militias disbanded.
Programs were set up to encourage cannabis growers to raise other crops like tobacco, tomatoes, wheat, sugar beets, potatoes, and watermelon. The programs were poorly run and ran out of money not long after they were started. Funding for the main program dropped from $300 million to $4.25 million in a five year period.
Some farmers that were initially given a ton of potato seeds had the allotment suddenly cut to a half ton. Others were given American cows that failed to produce the promised amounts of milk under the weather and agricultural conditions in Lebanon. Those that successfully grew crops had difficulty finding buyers.
Farmers suffered. They didn’t make nearly the money they used to and had to find other sources of income. Some became drivers. Sons were unable to get married because they couldn’t raise the bride price. When they did get married they were often forced to live at home.
In recent years cannabis has made a come back. Farmers grow fields of cannabis shielded from view by a few meters of corn plants placed around the perimeter of the field. If the get questioned by authorities they say they are growing the plants for bird seed.
Much of the trade is controlled by the Jaffer tribes, who are heavily armed and used gun gunmen to patrol fields. Some of the growers are believed to be working with guerillas and Islamists, who need money for their operations.
The government drops leaflets from helicopters warning people not to grow cannabis. It worries that if the drug market returns to Lebanon in a big way the country could lose badly-needed foreign aid money. Even so, the government has taken little direct action to stop cannabis farming.
Kif and Hashish Production in Morocco
indoor growing Hashish and kif are widely used by Moroccans. Much of the hashish is yellow in color and is called blonde. Kif is also widely consumed. The main growing area is the Rif Mountains, a range of medium-size mountains that run parallel to the Mediterranean Sea in northern Morocco.
Morocco is the “world’s leading hashish producer,” according to a report by the Geopolitical Drug Observatory. It produces about 2000 tons of hashish a year. The Rif region is the largest source of cannabis in Europe. Hashish produced here is smuggled into Spain, France and Britain and other countries. It is reportedly a business worth $3 billion a year, making it Morocco’s largest source of income and foreign exchange. According to some estimates the hashish business accounts for between one third and one half of Morocco’s total earnings.
Rif mountains filled with marijuana plantations. By one estimate 120,000 hectares of cannabis is grown behind rows of corn plants. Ketama is a town that lies at the center of the cannabis producing areas. Tangier has grown rich from the hashish trade. According to a Morocco newspaper, “many political and economic fortunes have been built on trafficking hashish and its exportation to profitable European markets.”
Even though hashish and marijuana are technically illegal in the Rif mountains and in Morocco, men line the roads in the Rif mountains selling tin foil packets of kif and hashish. Grungy characters approach tourists on the streets of Marrakesh and Tangier, whispering hashish under their breath. Many of street dealers in Barcelona, Paris and other European cities are Moroccans.
Efforts Crackdown on the Drug Business in Morocco
indoor growing stuff Efforts to crackdown on the drug trade have largely been comprised of token raids and arrests around harvest time. According to the report by the Geopolitical Drug Observatory released in the mid-1990s: “The political will to attack drug trafficking appears to be limited to announcements designed to maintain the country’s image.” According to U.S. State Department report, the Moroccan government has devoted “significant resources” to drug interdiction but large scale drug producers and traffickers operate “with virtual impunity” due to government “budgetary constraints, corruption and nearly exclusive focus of authorities on lower-level couriers.”
King Hassan’s drug fighting efforts often consisted of begging the E.U. for money to develop the Rif mountain region, where most of the cannabis comes from. In the mid 1990s, he proposed spending $100 million a year on developing the area with the E.U. kicking in $500 million a year.
King Mohammed VI has done little to stop the drug trade even though he has been pressured to do so by the European Union. One grower told the Independent, that after King Mohammed VI took the throne the token raids and arrests around harvest time stopped.
On average Spanish customs officials seize around 100 tons of hashish a year, much of from intercepted boats in the Straits of Gibralter but they have trouble intercepting drugs as they are often preoccupied with stopping illegal immigrants who also arrive by boat.
In old days much of the cannabis crop of Morocco was bought by the French government. "Authorities buy up crops to destroy them,” one official told National Geographic, "This helps cut down drug traffic without completely crippling the farmers, already among the poorest in the land. For many, the drug is the only cash crop. The Rif is rugged country. Most of it is not reachable by motor road: to enforce prohibition, we would need an army."
Talks between the European Union and Morocco to crackdown on the drug trade have yielded few results. An E.U. plan to get cannabis farmers around Ketama to switch to goats was abandoned after discovering that cannabis was simply grown in other places.
Marijuana Production in the United States
Marijuana is one of the biggest cash crops in the United States and to a greater extent in Canada, particularly in British Columbia. In the United States, it is grown everywhere but California and Kentucky have a reputation for producing a lot..
Most of the marijuana consumed in the United States is grown domestically in six states: California, Hawaii, Kentucky, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington. Large amount also come from Mexico and Canada.
Some farms in California cover several hundred acres and have more than 50,000 plants, each valued at around $4,000 each. Many farm are in national parks and national forests. The plants are planted six feet a part in the forest in places where they get sunlight but can not be observed by ariel surveillance. The more sophisticated farms have diverted streams for water and use drip irrigation.
Some farm are run by Mexican gangs. They hire workers who are dropped off using remote forest or logging roads. They sleep in tents and guard and take care of the plants during the summer growing season. Every two are three weeks new supplies are brought in for them.
Most marijuana and hashish users get high no more than once a week. Almost half of users use it less than 10 times a year. In most Western countries, survey show that about a third of the people between 15 and 50 have tried cannabis at least once and 10 to 15 percent are regular users (the definition of a regular user varies quit a bit).
Only 9 to 12 percent of cannabis users are regarded as dependent: 9 to 12 percent. By contrast 80 percent of nicotine users are. Many cannabis users say that marijuana and hashish are less harmful and addictive than coffee.
In the United States, about 47 percent of the adult population has tried cannabis and six percent said they smoked it regularly in surveys 2002 and 2006. Many tend to smoke it in their teens and quit in their 20s. Fifty percent don’t use any other drug.
According to the United Nations annual report on drugs, issued in June 2009, global use of cannabis fell in 2008. The consumption of cannabis has dropped in the developed world, especially among young people. However the amount of THC in the cannabis sold has almost doubled in 10 years.
Image Source: DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration); Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Buzzed, the Straight Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy by Cynthia Kuhn, Ph.D., Scott Swartzwelder Ph.D., Wilkie Wilson Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center (W.W. Norton, New York, 2003); National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Wikipedia, The Independent, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2009 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated March 2011